What connects modern-day user experience and user interface designs to colour coding psychology? While working on a wide diversity of client projects of UI and UX design, at TIS India we have gathered some insights on the importance of colour coding to end-user psychology and therefore, the need for brands to focus on using colour coding strategically. What is visible to the eye is much more than how it looks. It is about how it sells.
“Looking through the glass” is a phrase straight out of the “Lewis Carroll” fiction work Alice in Wonderland that proves the fallacy of composition in the way users perceive touch points that they come across in the real world and how these touch points create the much-touted “reality distortion field”, a phrase coined and integrated into user design and experience philosophy by Steve Jobs.
The way users of devices, systems, products and services look at colours beyond doubt is a matter of psychological significance to UI and UX designers. No wonder then, that Stanford University one of the Ivy League institutions in the world has for long now been offering a major in symbolic systems, an academic discipline that integrates technology, economics, behavioural sciences and psychology into a single metric. While the direct bearing that colour coding of brands has on user experience has been captured in such academic disciplines, our hands-on approach to UI and UX design thinking has enabled us to learn the following things from working on client projects:
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Every vertical has a colour of its own. Talk of some of the most valued brands of official communication, professional networking, social media, software and information technology and the colour blue appears to be the chosen one. Blue evokes the visualization of the cloud and thus, it makes sense for technology brands to use the colour for branding across online and offline platforms. Red is synonymous with not only passion but also metabolism and our penchant for happiness. Some of the biggest brands in the verticals of soft drinks, music and quick service restaurants deploy the red colour coding to convey a love for food, and a zest for life and happiness.
Both black and white are used by premium brands across industry verticals like automobile, consumer durables, electronic consumer devices and fashion. Yet there are subtle differences in the positioning of brands that deploy the colours white and black respectively. Brands that deploy white colour coding convey an out-of-the-box approach to living life, standing out from the competition and being one with the self, whereas brands that deploy the black colour exude values of power, winning, competition and a belief in ruling others in the community.
How many times do we come across brands that deploy colour coding across touchpoints both online and offline, that lack consistency of shades and intensity? A variation in the colour shades of brands across digital and offline touch points does unimaginable damage to the brand. First, many users fail to take cognizance of the fact that the same brand may depict slightly differing shades of the same colour across digital platforms and devices. Second, many users form perceptions of the concerned brand’s failure to maintain the same quality standards across markets, geographies, product lines and brick and mortar (BAM), click and mortar (CAM) and eCommerce channels.
For example, we have come across brands in the retail, consumer durables, entertainment, gaming, media and fashion industry verticals that have an inconsistency between the colour codes deployed across digital and offline touch points. No wonder, their online sales revenues, volumes and gross merchandise values do not touch the same levels on digital channels as their offline channels like retail outlets, wholesalers and ex-factory price shops do.
When brands tend to compromise on matching the colour coding across multiple digital media platforms like the corporate website, e-commerce portal, social media portfolio and offline channels like BAM outlets, it hurts user sentiment badly. The lack of homogeneity of colour coding works to widen the user trust deficit in the brand in two ways.
First, it drives ambiguity into the user’s mind with regard to the uniqueness and novelty of the said brand, conveys the availability of close but different substitutes to the original brand and finally raises a question on the existence of counterfeit products bearing the same brand tag on digital platforms and offline touch points in the grey market.
Second, it actually enables counterfeit brands to emerge in the grey market, thereby diluting the authenticity of the original brand and undermining the brand value. No wonder such brands lose sales, market share and volumes to counterfeit brands.
One of the most significant impacts of colour coding chosen by brands is on their recall by users. The choice of colour coding that a brand deploys across digital and offline touch points has a tremendous impact on the way in which users recall it before making a purchase in the said product category. At TIS, we have over the years run TATs (Thematic Apperception Tests) to gain insights into the choice of colours that brands make for digital platforms and check for consistent patterns of brand awareness, recognition and recall that emerge from the remarks of the respondents.
While it makes sense for brands to choose colour codes for their website design, mobile apps, social media pages and brand logos that best resemble industry standards, it is equally important to retain the individual character of the brand’s image, personality and value proposition. As such the ideal outcome warranted by brands is for web and mobile designers to be creative and original with the creative aspects of brand graphics while retaining the broad-based industry standards in choosing the colour.
While many technologists like to go with the industry protocol of Google SEO guidelines for mobile websites and responsive design frameworks in web design, mobile app interface design and visual user interface designs for personal devices, the single most important challenge is the variation in or among target markets, geographies and customer segments. For example, it is important for brands to empathize with the traits that users belonging to diverse age groups may have.
The ultimate objective is to sensitize the colour coding of brands to the needs of the elderly users that may not be able to remember brands at their fingertips and thus may find it difficult to access essential services of BFSI, healthcare, e-commerce, travel and pharmacy brands.
At TIS India, we have worked with a vast plethora of brands belonging to a variety of industry verticals on projects of responsive web design, UI and UX design and through blog pieces such as these bring before you our collective experience and expertise in impacting lives of end users through digital technologies.