Color is a powerful means for presenting information. The tints you choose and the way you use them can have a strong impact on your audience. They may have special meanings in certain cultures (read e.g. the example in an earlier post about the use of red and green on the Japan stock exchange), and even have an emotional appeal (as indexed by Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions.)
Emotion and perception. That’s the reason why marketers carefully pick ‘appropriate’ color schemes for their collateral and websites. Did you know that Google apparently tested 41 shades of blue to maximize the click-through rate on hyperlinks?
- Red is a strong color, with both positive and negative meaning: love, energy, danger, … You can use it to emphasize your messages, but sometimes you better avoid it because of its negative connotation. Also note that red text is often poorly readable, both on a light and a dark background.
- Blue expresses trust, confidence and loyalty. So it’s a perfect background or foreground for business presentations. At least if you don’t mind coming over as conservative ̶ which is unfortunately also a synonym for boring.
- Green represents health, nature and novelty. An ideal tint when you want to talk about the eco-friendliness of your products or the sustainability of your business.
- Yellow stands for logic and intelligence, but also for caution and cowardice. Unless you put it on a dark background, don’t use yellow fonts.
- Purple means creativity and innovation. That’s why e.g. Alcatel-Lucent, the company I work with, has chosen it in their logo.
- Black is most commonly associated with power and elegance. It’s a good and neutral color for your presentations. One caution about using a black (or any other dark) background: it may cost you a lot of ink when printing out handouts of your slides.
- White, although the opposite of black, is also a neutral shade. Personally, I prefer to work on a white background as it gives my slides a clean look, creates a feeling of open space, and combines perfectly with any other color.
Don’t feed the chameleons! Use colors vividly but wisely. Don’t mix too many of them on one single slide, and avoid improper combinations like red/green (can’t be distinguished by certain color blind people) or orange/blue (seem to vibrate against one another).
“Thrift Store Landscape With a Color Test” by Chad Wys
(paint on found print and frame, 2009)
Earlier in this post, I mentioned Plutchik’s wheel. A color wheel also helps you to understand the relationships between colors. When using colors it’s always good know the theory of primary (red, blue, and yellow), secondary (green, violet, and orange) and tertiary colors (made from combinations of then former six) and know which combinations work and which don’t. If you need some advice, there are a few great tools on the web like ColorBlender or Color Scheme Designer.
As a final note, many of the statements I made above about the use of colors in presentations are also valid for a presenter’s attire. Colors don’t make the man (or the woman), but poor choices can spoil your appearance, take away attention from your message, or even give another meaning to the things you tell.
Next week, I will talk about using images in your presentations.
Other articles about this topic that are worth reading:
- Colour Theory – by someone who was never taught Art (by Autumn Stone)
- Why marketers choose certain colors (by Al Getler)
- The Importance of Color in Business Presentations (by Helena Pereira)
- What Colors Mean in Different Cultures (by David McCandless)
- Plutchik’s Eight Primary Emotions And How To Use Them (by Daniel Benjamin Smith)
- Are You Pantone Deaf? (by Ben Bassak)
- Why Yahoo’s “30 Logos in 30 Days” Campaign is Actually Brilliant Rebranding (by Alec Lynch)
- Why Facebook is blue: The science of colors in marketing (by Leo Widrich)
- What to wear as a presenter? (by Barbara Busey)
- Don’t feed the chameleons (by me)