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The Psychology of Design: The Color Black in Marketing & Design

The Psychology of Design: The Color Black in Marketing & Design

August 05 2019

Way back when, in my former years as a graphic design student, I had the opportunity to not only take a number of computer-based graphics classes but traditional art classes as well. 
See, the thing is, you can’t go off applying concepts to elements in a design without a solid understanding of the core fundamentals of art and design. Most notably, color. 
I learned about color theory in Painting I. 
With my rolling, glass-top palette, oil pants, mineral oil, and a trusty palette knife, I learned everything I know about color by mixing the basics into what I needed.
We started color mixing with two simple rules, no mixing with white, no mixing with black, not until we learned to mix color with color. 
The reason? Black and white effect the tint and shade of a color so dramatically, you’d likely end up with one big muted mess.
Even when you did perfect the proper restraint levels, it was always a dicey move, especially with black. Why? Black is simply that powerful.
Color can often speak louder than words. It’s the first thing you notice about a design, it evokes immediate emotion and sets the tone for all other supporting elements.
Being able to successfully understand and implement color in your marketing and design can change behavior. This is no more true than with, arguably, the strongest color there is - black.

But wait, is black even a color?
Valid question considering black isn’t even on the color wheel. 
There are a couple of different philosophies on this. The first is scientific. 
According to physics, black is not a color because it doesn’t have it’s on specific wavelength in terms of visible light. 
Each color on the spectrum has its own specific wavelength, black does not have a wavelength because it is considered the absence of all light.


Ok fine, science has a point. 
But, if you open up any box of crayons, you’ll see black, pink, and even macaroni and cheese, none of which have these wavelengths, but we still perceive them as and consider them “colors.”

Black as a neutral
We know from Ashleigh’s earlier article on the color red, that there are three primary color/emotional categories to consider when selecting colors for design: warm, cool, and neutral. 
Black is a neutral color, which is often used to “stabilize” or subdue more vibrant colors that run the risk of being overpowering.
Because of these stabilizing properties, black can feel very powerful.
Black can be associated with being elegant, formal, slick, modern, or luxurious.



The WWF logo, for example, is formal with a refined elegance that will always remain modern. 



The Nike swoosh’s action forward form is both slick and modern. 




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