A fact no-one can deny is that human beings are highly visual. Sight is consistently ranked by most people as the most important of their five senses. In our changing world and with the advent of screen-based technology, the draw of visual interfaces is even more pronounced. As we become evermore dependent on visual products, the market becomes saturated and it’s a complex challenge for developers to design engaging digital applications. It’s not just about the quality of the product and the problems it solves; the app needs to draw in the user and comprehensively capture their attention, deliver a compelling experience, and adequately please their senses.
With so many apps on the market, what tactics are overlooked that can support the design and business objectives? One key tactic is leveraging color psychology for its powerful impact on our minds. When incorporated into digital design, colors and their psychological responses have a meaningful role to play not least when you consider that people have been found to make up their minds within 90 seconds of their initial interactions with either people or products, with 62 to 90 percent of this assessment based purely on colors. After all, for anyone looking to launch a product or service app to their target market, the objective is to create as positive and satisfactory an interface as possible. Based on how visual human beings are, the psychological influence of hues is an area that every person in a design, development, branding, or marketing position should be thinking about and looking at.
In this article, we’ll explore the following areas of understanding of How color psychology works in mobile app development design:
- The psychology of color
- Why color psychology is key for mobile app development
- The role of color psychology in user-experience design
- Five color considerations mobile app developers should remember when designing and creating custom apps
The psychology of color
Color psychology is an entire field of study to decode how we experience the world, receive and parse information, and subconsciously perceive symbols through all shades of the rainbow. Color psychology is compelling in that it has nuances across cultures, languages, and contexts. For human beings, the way that color can affect our moods, our interpretation of a thing, or, even the way food tastes, is fascinatingly singular in terms of psychology. Color can also often be entirely specific to each of our individual experiences. Nicole Martins Ferreira writes for Oberlo that color is fundamentally linked to human behavior. Martins Ferreira says, “The same color can also have different meanings that are dependent on our upbringing, gender, location, values, and a variety of other factors.”
When it comes to the human psyche, color has specific links to:
- Mental wellbeing e.g. the idea of dark indigo blue and black representing depression
- Emotions e.g. pale colors are thought to evoke feelings of calm while red denotes passion or anger
- Social cues e.g. black is worn during mourning in many cultures and the ‘white flag of peace’ symbolizes goodwill in others
There is a myriad of ways color psychology tells the stories of humanity from ancient civilizations, such as royalty being signified in deep purple due to the rareness of the shade in nature, through to modern civilizations with the United Nations selecting a blue flag (with white imagery) in 1947 to represent “peace in opposition to red, for war.” Across the world, color isn’t just part of how we tell stories and interact with the world around us, it often underpins how we gather information and form our beliefs.
Why color psychology is key for mobile app development?
Color psychology can be implemented into innumerable areas of design and storytelling. From marketing and branding to architecture and visual arts, human beings have a strong response to color. Color psychology is equally omnipresent in technology design. Just as physical brands and products incorporate this psychology into their designs, these same principles have a central role in the digital world. Colors have been iconic in the 21st century era of technology companies. When we recall Mark Zuckerberg’s choice of the ‘Facebook blue’ due to his color blindness and how many of the world’s current biggest companies, across a range of industries, use blue in their logos, it’s extraordinarily compelling that there can be a color that is universally preferred for use in the tech industry.
It’s therefore inarguable that right now color psychology is even more prevalent in how people engage with products and services. Moreover it makes it a crucial part of how mobile app developers should approach their design and development process. Take into account that in 2022, mobile device usage (excluding tablets) exceeded computer usage as 58.99 percent of global website traffic was driven from mobile users. In this moment and beyond getting the use of color psychology right is imperative for mobile app development due to the majority of all digital products now being designed for smartphone mobile devices. As nearly all services move to app format, including both public and private services, and as more companies look to the app format to deliver essential products, color psychology and using these principles to inform interface design and user experience is an obvious pathway to delivering technology that works reliably as an end-to-end customer solution.
The role of color psychology in user-experience design
For mobile app developers, user-experience (UX) design is fundamental. UX considerations are crucial to creating products that are both meaningful and relevant to their target users. Nick Babich writes for Adobe that UX is “everything that affects a user’s interaction with a digital product.” He describes further, “Simply put, UX requires a deep understanding of the user: their needs, wants, behaviors, and the context in which they will use a product.” There are general criteria that should be incorporated into evaluating the user’s interaction to achieve a good UX:
- UX is about the user and people need to be considered in all areas of design
- Allowing it to be an ongoing process that is tested and updated when changes are identified
- Keep in mind business needs on the part of the company
- Don’t confuse UX with User Interface (UI) design — although UI is solely about visual and interactive design as part of UX
To leverage color psychology in UX design, it’s relevant for mobile app developers to bring in interaction design and interface design and not just the individual user experience. Color psychology offers mobile app developers the opportunity to combine functionality with a custom color palette and strategic visual language for an elevated user interface (UI). Mobile app developers integrating these components are well-positioned to design products that properly achieve organizational goals. As Hossein Raspberry writes for UX Studio, “In spite of the fact that color is usually viewed as only an aesthetic decision of the designers, it is a core element of the emotional and cognitive impact of a design on users.” Further to this, research also shows that on average, for every dollar invested in UX, there is $100 in return on investment.
Five color considerations mobile app developers should remember when designing and creating custom apps
From representation to psychological prompts, mobile app developers have a long checklist of color requisites to remember when they’re creating products that are endearing to users. Steve Jobs once said that “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” Using color intentionally and strategically when developing is a multi-prong process. The following five color considerations we recommend every mobile app developer remember cover: upholding branding, auditing cultural symbolism, checking technical and user barriers, investing in the testing phase, and exploring bonus custom features.
1. Uphold the brand profile
While color can have all kinds of an influence on the user, consistency with the organization’s official color palette and overall branding is essential. In many cases, the brand color story for the owner of the product starts well before the mobile app developer’s involvement. Developers should take the time to get to know the brand colors and visual aesthetic as part of the development phase and, where necessary, liaise with the marketing team to ensure there is cohesion with how the organization is being presented. With one study from Heinz showing that brand recognition is increased by color by up to 80 percent, adhering to hues that are already synonymous with the brand is a no-brainer. For a brand that doesn’t currently use color, there is genuine potential to make a lasting impression via individual app products that are immediately unforgettable; Apple used this strategy with a history-making decision when it launched its colored iMacs in 1998 and in the process actually saved the now trillion-dollar company.
2. Audit color symbolism and check target market color trends
As we have already discussed, colors have measurable and dynamic symbolism across cultures. Colors are also susceptible to trends as we know from the ubiquitous ‘millennial pink’ of the late 2010s and the annual Pantone Color of the Year. Color means a lot no matter which way you swing it. Beyond symbolism — as with the tri-color traffic light systems used around the world — getting to the heart of what shades have historically meant and their present-day place in the zeitgeist is an urgent and important step for developers. If hues are already being considered based on the brand’s color profile or symbolism for the app, for example blue endures based on how it corresponds to tranquility, then having clear objectives will help with making the UX and UI elements hit the mark. At no point should colors be chosen arbitrarily as these will also give visual directives to the user during app navigation: just think of how red declares the enforcing ‘Stop’ and green prompts the all-clear, good-to-’Go’ signal.
3. Check technical and user barriers of using certain colors
Color absolutely has a place in every app however choosing how it’s used in advance is vital to UX, too. Developers need to be aware of whether there are technical factors in using colors that might be passed on to the user. These factors are wide-reaching including how much more power is consumed with lighter shades on the color spectrum (with white using the most) and whether there are issues replicating some colors across hybrid platforms. Collating, reviewing, testing, and changing colors where needed during development is part of smoothing out any user problems with mobile app design and development before launch. Accessibility is also a foremost issue and a responsibility of every organization. Making inclusive products should be a goal of every company and with the World Health Organization reporting in 2018 that at least 2.2 billion people experience some kind of visual impairment having clear colors that enhance easy app navigation helps reduces personal challenges.
4. Invest in A/B test designs with target market
Next for mobile app developers is to thoroughly check the UX of their products with A/B split testing. Color choices can demonstrate unexpected behavioral trends in the testing phase with experiments proving just how layered user’s psychological responses to different hues can be. One example from Hubspot that experimented with buttons in apps disproved existing theories about how users chose between red and green buttons in A/B testing: the red button outperformed the green button by 21% in otherwise completely identical apps. Making presumptions about certain colors, particularly if they are part of the brand’s identity, is a risky decision so if bolder options such as vibrant orange or luminous yellow are on the design shortlist then investing in testing won’t be a waste of developer resources. The outcome of A/B testing is to ultimately determine what works as much as what doesn’t so this is not a stage of the development process to skip or rush.
5. Explore additional custom features
A final color consideration for mobile app developers to remember is to incorporate customizable features in for the user. Making the app feel like the user’s very own without compromising functionality and accessibility can enhance the UX particularly if the brand’s official colors differ from individual needs. Take for example Microsoft who view color as a personal feature of their UX and incorporate customization into their products for enhanced cultural inclusivity as well as interactivity benefits. Their apps can also move back and forth between light and dark themes, a tactic that they recommend all app developers integrate into their designs. Spending time building in a range of color-customizing features works both for accessibility and the overall ease-of-use — two non-negotiable pillars of UX.
Color is as much a part of our digital world as our natural world so don’t discount the time taken travelling along the kaleidoscope of sunset crimson to deep cerulean blue. Like any business investment, the return is nearly always much more than the singular cost of working with expert professionals and bringing a high-quality product to market. Both qualitatively and quantitatively, color does matter. In the words of Hossein Raspberry for UX Studio, “Studies covering color psychology and more specifically, psychological effects of color on human behavior show that it takes 90 seconds for a customer to form an opinion about a product and 90% of the time, this opinion is influenced by colors.” Technology is a 360-degree experience and as we move further into the metaverse, with both augmented reality and virtual reality, colors will only take on greater and deeper symbolism. Work with mobile app developers closely to find the right color stories that reinforce your brand through your products and achieve the UX you have in mind from the very first moment they interact with your offering.
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