Colour in branding – The Wright Theory and Colour Affects System

We’ve all heard of colour psychology, and probably know some basics, such as how red can be seen as bold, energetic, fiery or aggressive, depending on the context and who is looking at it. Red symbolises love, but can also mean good luck in Chinese culture.

Traditional colour psychology is very subjective, and depends on a variety of contexts, however, the Wright Theory is different. Rooted in psychology and maths, it talks about building harmonious colour palettes that will appeal to certain people, no matter what their age, gender, or cultural background is. If used well, the Wright Theory is a powerful tool that will help you create beautiful colour palettes that will be in line with your business message and will also appeal to your customers.


Angela Wright’s Research

Traditionally, how we perceive colour has been seen as a very subjective matter. The effect it has on us was thought to depend on our age, gender, social status, cultural context, as well as a variety of life experiences. However, in the 1970s, psychologist Angela Wright began to explore how colour affects our mood, and found links between colours and human behaviour that are objective i.e. they are they same for everyone.

She continued to study those relationships and formed four distinct groups of colours that evoke similar responses. In the 90s, mathematical correlations between colours in each of these groups were discovered, what has confirmed the objectivity of Wright’s theory.

This theory has been tested both by academics and empirically through Angela Wright’s business consultancy, and it has proven itself to be true. It then became the basis of Colour Affects System.


Colour Affects System

Colour Affects System is based on three key principles:

  • We are all affected by colour psychologically
  • Some of this may be personal, but there are a lot of aspects that are objective, unaffected by culture, gender, or age, meaning they are predictable
  • There are four groups of colours that affect us differently

These principles state that no matter who we are and where we come from, there are certain colours that will evoke similar feelings or behaviours among us all. These colours can be separated into four major groups.

What is more, Angela Wright discovered that there are mathematical relationships between the colours within the same group, but are not shared with colours among other groups. This creates something like a guide to colour harmony – colours within the same group will work well together, while when they are mixed with colours from other groups, they’ll create dissonance.

There’s more to this, though! The Wright Theory argues that people can be divided into four psychological types (based on work of Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist) that correspond to the four colour groups. Although there are no universally beautiful colours, people with a particular psychological type will naturally find colours from that corresponding group more attractive. This means that as soon as someone’s psychological type is established, their colour preferences can be predicted.

However, no matter what psychological type a person has and which colours they prefer, they will still find all palettes drawn from one colour group harmonious and beautiful. It’s only when they have to choose which colour group they prefer, that they’ll pick one from their corresponding group.

Colour Affects System allows you then to easily create harmonious colour palettes that will evoke certain feelings in people that look at them. You can also create a palette that will definitely appeal to a certain personality type, if this is something you’d want to target. Pretty cool, huh?

So let’s have a look at the four colour groups:


Group 1 – Morninglight/Spring

Group 1 - Spring

  • Clean, clear, fresh, and delicate warm colours, containing no black
  • Personality: externally motivated, warm, friendly, fresh, youthful, clever, light on their feet, optimistic
  • Negatively they can be perceived as frivolous, cheap, and insubstantial

These colours will work best for young and fun brands, especially those that want to appeal to a younger audience, for example, media companies, marketing agencies or toy manufacturers. It’s not limited to just those, though. A good example is British Petroleum, which isn’t necessarily a fun and youthful company, yet the bright colours make their logo look friendly and fresh.


Group 2 – Dreamlight/Summer

Group 2 - Summer

  • Cool, delicate, subtle, and not necessarily light colours, that contain a bit of grey
  • Personality: internally motivated, calm, collected, gentle, witty, elegant, graceful, soothing
  • Negatively they can be perceived as unfriendly, elitist, dry, and aloof

These colours are perfect for brands that want to evoke the feeling of timelessness, elegance and delicacy. Luxury hotels or upmarket lingerie brands would be great examples, but because these colours are naturally so recessive, they often end up being used in governmental buildings, hospitals or museums.


Group 3 – Firelight/Autumn

Group 3 - Autumn

  • Rich, fiery, warm, and offbeat colours that contain black tints, but black itself doesn’t belong in this group
  • Personality: externally motivated, intense, strong, fiery, friendly, reliable
  • Negatively they can be perceived as flamboyant, bossy and tedious. When misused, these colours can look boring and old-fashioned.

Due to their visual strength, these are the most commonly used colours in branding. They’re appropriate for companies with a proud heritage, for which strength and integrity are important. Because of the earthy tones they are also often used by brands that want to portray themselves as environmentally-friendly.


Group 4 – Starlight/Winter

Group 4 - Winter

  • Cold, clear, strong, contrasting colours, either very light or very dark, include pure black and white
  • Personality: internally motivated, command respect, objective-driven, efficient and sophisticated
  • Negatively they can be perceived as cold, uncaring, unfriendly, elitist and expensive.

These colours are very bold and modern. They work great for brands that are sophisticated, chic and aspirational. High standards, leadership, state-of-the-art product and cutting-edge design are often associated with this colour palette. They are commonly used by tech or luxury companies.


Colour Affects System in branding

According to Angela Wright, this system has been in use for almost 20 years, and major brands like Shell, Motorola, BT or The Body Shop have confirmed its effectiveness through increase in sales. So how do you apply it to your brand?

The first step is to identify your brand characteristics. Are you trying to communicate strength and proud heritage, or is your brand playful and upbeat? Do you want your brand to look cutting-edge and aspirational, or is it more appropriate for it to blend into the surroundings well? Decide which colour group matches your brand the most.

Now, because all of the colours within the same group harmoniously match each other, you can pick virtually any hues to create your colour palette. This will save you a lot of time and ensure that you’re not sending any mixed messages.

It will be the most effective if your brand message is in line with your target audience’s personality type. Of course, it’s impossible that every single one of your customers belongs to the same type, but if a lot do, they’ll not only perceive the colour palette as harmonious, but they’ll also have a natural preference for it, what gives you an enormous advantage over your competition.

When that’s done, all you need to do is ensure that this chosen colour palette is used across all of your branding.

Colour Affects System is an incredibly powerful tool to create harmonious colour palettes that represent your brand values well and appeal to your target audience. Although it’s been in use for almost 20 years, not many people seem to be aware of it. Maybe this is a great opportunity to start using it now, and get ahead of the crowd!

A Marvellous blog by Simon

Simon co-founded Marvellous in 2005, with the aim of building a dynamic digital agency – combining the latest technology with cutting-edge visual design.

See all our Marvellous blogs