Design essentials I: How the shape and color of products affect your emotions and purchase.

Adapted from an open course engineering design class & Color – Messages and Meanings

Reading time – 10 minutes

TDLR – not applicable

There are two parts to design, the aesthetics and the functional aspects. Since we’re coming off a how to sell post, let’s talk about aesthetics today; we’ll go over the functional ones next week.

On Shape

Line creates a physical as well as conceptual form by joining points to create surface of planes. Psychologically, they convey convey human emotion under different conditions.


A – strength, vitality, stability and security

B – movement up or downward

C – passive

D – shows motion

E – noble, balance, towering, strength

F – beauty, grace and elegance

G – peeling poverty and emptiness

H – produces a sense of fullness and calm

On Color

Tint & Shade

Tint is the mixture of colors with white which increases lightness whereas shade is the mixture of a color with black, which reduces lightness.

They can make object appear light or heavier in packaging design, where the illusion of lightness is desired and in display for apparel or home product.  Usually the darker hues appear heavier compare to lighter ones. For example, the darker color nail-polish appear heavier in contrast to the skin color.

Moreover, light hue appears nearer in contrast darker hue recedes back.

Temperature & age


The range of colors between green to purple-blue gives us the feeling of cool temperature. On the other hand the color between golden yellow to vermilion red appears to generate feeling of warmth

Likewise, the use of blue or greens in combination of white and bright can give as area of newness. The combinations of colors gray, black and brown tend to appear old. On the other hand, lighter colors appear newer.

Color Context

Color out of context, such as blue mashed potatoes or red bread can actually be nauseating. It is found that many of us have grown distaste or taste towards particular color (s). Due to various reasons human being reacts to color psychologically. Some colors appeal to individuals while a few may have repulsive affect.

Psychologists have found that ‘blue’ color food tends to have repulsive effect. In nature not many fruits are having blue color. Similarly, black color hamburger does not increase your appetite. If food is served on a blue plate people would lose appetite. On the other hand, yellow-red color food increases appetite. Yellow-red-orange color gives us feeling of sweetish taste.

Different colors, their effects and their meanings

RED excites / stimulates/passion/ action

confidence, courage, vitality, warmth, love, anger, danger, boldness, excitement, speed, strength, energy, determination, desire, passion, courage

Passion, strength, energy, fire, love, sex, excitement, speed, heat, leadership, masculinity, power

Danger, fire, gaudiness, blood, war, anger, revolution, radicalism, aggression, stop

ORANGE activates/ pessimism/ sacrifice

cheerfulness, low cost, affordability, enthusiasm, stimulation, creativity, aggression, food

Buddhism, energy, balance, heat, fire, enthusiasm, flamboyance, playfulness

Aggression, arrogance, flamboyance, gaudiness, over-emotion, warning, danger, fire

YELLOW cheers (it stimulates intellect usage in libraries, classrooms)/optimistic/ cheerful

attention-grabbing, comfort, liveliness, cowardliness, hunger, optimism, overwhelm, Summer, comfort, liveliness, intellect, happiness, energy, conflict

Sunlight, joy, happiness, optimism, idealism, wealth (gold), summer, hope, air

Cowardice, illness (quarantine), hazards, dishonesty, avarice, ossification, weakness

GREEN refreshes / retiring / balance/ growth/ self-reliance

durability, reliability, environmental, luxurious, optimism, well-being, nature, calm, relaxation, Spring, safety, honesty, optimism, harmony, freshness

Nature, spring, fertility, youth, environment, wealth, money (US), good luck, vigour, generosity, go, grass

Aggression, inexperience, envy, misfortune, jealousy, money, illness, greed

INDIGO BLUE intuition/ idealism /ritualistic/ addictive

BLUE cools and subdues / relaxing/ trust and peace/ loyalty and integrity/conservatism and frigidity

peace, professionalism, loyalty, reliability, honour, melancholia, boredom, coldness, Winter, depth, stability, professionalism, trust

Seas, skies, peace, unity, harmony, tranquillity, calmness, coolness, confidence, water, ice, loyalty, conservatism, dependability, cleanliness, technology, winter

Depression, coldness, idealism, obscenity, ice, tackiness, winter

PURPLE imaginative/ creative/ individual/ immature and impractical/ depressing

power, royalty, nobility, elegance, sophistication, artificial, luxury, mystery, royalty, elegance, magic

Sensuality, spirituality, creativity, wealth, royalty, nobility, ceremony, mystery, wisdom, enlightenment

Arrogance, flamboyance, gaudiness, mourning, profanity, exaggeration, confusion

MAGENTA stimulates/ universal harmony/ emotional balance/ Spiritual/practical/ encouraging common sense/ balanced outlook – life

BROWN serious/ down-to-earth/ security/ protection/ material wealth

relaxing, confident, casual, reassuring, nature, earthy, solid, reliable, genuine, Autumn, endurance

Calm, depth, natural organisms, nature, richness, rusticism, stability, tradition

Anachronism, boorishness, dirt, dullness, filth, heaviness, poverty, roughness

GRAY neutralizing/ compromise

conservatism, traditionalism, intelligence, serious, dull, uninteresting

Elegance, humility, respect, reverence, stability, subtlety, timelessness, wisdom

Anachronism, boredom, decay, decrepitude, dullness, dust, pollution, urban sprawl

BLACK scary/ evil/ frightful/ fearful/ bad luck/ funeral color/ sadness/mourning/ unlucky

Elegance, sophistication, formality, power, strength, illegality, depression, morbidity, night, death

Modernity, power, sophistication, formality, elegance, wealth, mystery, style

Evil, death, fear, anonymity, anger, sadness, remorse, mourning, unhappiness, mystery

WHITE neutralizing/ compromise

Cleanliness, purity, newness, virginity, peace, innocence, simplicity, sterility, snow, ice, cold simplicity, sterility, snow, ice, cold

Reverence, purity, snow, peace, innocence, cleanliness, simplicity, security, humility, marriage, sterility, winter

Coldness, sterility, clinicism(?)/clinical, surrender, cowardice, fearfulness, winter, unimaginative

Subjectivity of colors – Restaurants

Red is an appetite stimulant. There are plenty of red foods, from tomatoes, to strawberries and red peppers. Red also stimulates conversation, so it’s no surprise restaurants want to incorporate it into their color scheme. You’ll eat a lot and enjoy your conversation.

Orange is associated with need and hunger. Oranges, carrots and salmon come to mind. Orange is commonly used in restaurants as well, because like red it stimulates hunger, and restaurants want you to eat.

Yellow is a sociable color. Lighting can adversely affect the yellow, so be careful how bright you go with it. Bright yellows are used liberally in fast food restaurants – think McDonald’s. I wonder if they want you to focus more on talking and less on what you’re eating.

Beige and Brown are earthy tones that create a calming atmosphere without suppressing appetites. Deep browns, dark woods for example, can make a room feel luxurious. These are also some of the most common colors in the foods we eat, apart from red and green, and it makes sense. Think meat, bread, and beans – protein and carbohydrates are important to our diets.

Green is a soothing color that aids digestion. It is also known to help you focus. Perhaps if you eat your vegetables, you’ll feel relaxed and get more done. Restaurants can use green in their décor to create a soothing ambiance, setting them apart from a stimulating restaurant done in red or orange.

Blue is known to be a calming color, and a favourite of many. But when it comes to food, it isn’t as popular. Blue acts as an appetite suppressant. If you want to eat less, try putting a blue light in your refrigerator or eating from a blue plate. How many blue foods can you think of that occur in nature? Blueberries are the only thing that comes to mind.

Emotional reactions associated with color are spontaneous. The reaction, often due to the perception of a color rather than to the color itself, may be positive or negative.

Product or any experience should not be judged in isolation. Colors are experience in association with other products and environment. The significance of color is realized only if it is experienced through various other factors around not in isolation. Even early civilizations such as the Romans recognized that people “eat with their eyes” as well as their palates.

Psychologically, ‘Red’ is more popular inside the restaurant– and it’s found that the red color environment making people hungry. This hot color psychologically stimulates the appetite and its gracing restaurants all over town.

The appetite and the healthy effect on humans are strongly depending on color and smell. Psychological and physiologically our digestive system start working the moment we see the food (color). The olfactory system entices further helps us to attract towards the food. The color of food is extremely important which communicates through our visionary.

Perceiving color is just the way we perceive taste. When we eat, our taste buds sense four attributes: sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Colors are similarly closely related to the feeling of taste. When one feels sweetish it naturally tries to relate to red to pinkish color hues.  Similarly greenish or brownish color relates to bitter taste.

The hues that have bearing on the association with taste of food

  • Acid             yellowish, orangish-yellow, greenish-yellow
  • Salted          gray with pale green / pale blue
  • Sweet          orange, yellow to red
  • Sweetish     pink
  • Bitter           navy gray, brown, olive green, violet

In general warm colors create sensation of sweet and cool colors of bitter.

Case study: Red worldwide

Red is the color of extremes. It’s the color of passion, seduction, aggressiveness, danger, anger, and adventure. Our prehistoric ancestors saw red as the color of fire and blood– energy and primal life forces– and most of red’s symbolism today arises from its powerful associations in the past. Human scarify was directly related to red-blood color. Ancient cultures have practiced such rituals where red color has significance.

Red is also a magical and religious color. It symbolized super-human heroism to the Greeks and is the color of the Christian crucifixion. Red was almost as rare and as expensive as purple in ancient days – a fact that may explain its magic and power. Paradoxically, today’s intense red dyes come from crushed insects (the lacquer beetle and the cochineal).

Following are some of the global information related to the significance of red color-

Red is one of the top two favourite colors of all people.

Red is the most popular color used on flags in the world. Approximately 77% of all flags include red.

Red is the international color for stop

Red districts sell sex and pornography in every European culture.

The history of languages reveals that red is the first color after black and white. (All languages have words for black and white. If a third hue exists, it is red.) (Ref. )

Unique Meanings of Red in Different Cultures

Red is the color of good luck in Asia and is the most popular color in China.
Most Japanese children draw the sun as a big red circle.

In East Asian stock markets, red is used to denote a rise in stock prices. (Note: In North American stock markets, red is used to denote a drop in stock prices.)

Red is an auspicious color for marriage. Brides in India and Nepal wear red saris; in Japan, a red kimono symbolizes happiness and good luck

Red is perhaps one of the most visible color which is used various social causes. ‘Red’ has many roles to play in the society- stands for alert, prominently visible (plate 7) as a mail-box, red as fire-extinguisher and fire-engine are some of the commonly found products, which are around our society.

Next time fam!



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