What do you think of when you think of the color orange? Maybe the fruit, a basketball, or a sunset? More often than not, you’ll be hard-pressed to find something you’re associating with orange that is inherently negative. Although, being from Michigan, there are orange traffic cones and barrels that will elicit some anger, even those just meant to get your attention and proceed with caution. Largely, the color psychology of orange is associated with happiness and attention. It is the second color in the rainbow and on the warm part of the color spectrum. It is a high-energy color that inspires movement and vivacity.

The History of Orange

Throughout much of human history, orange has been a core part of art and design. Looking to master artists like Van Gogh and Cezanne, using orange in artwork draws attention and creates depth since warm colors feel as though they are rising into the foreground with cool colors receding. This lends the ability to use orange to construct thoughtful compositions that guide you through a painting spatially. 

A Van Gogh Painting hanging in a gallery surrounded by people.
Notice how in this portrait, done by Van Gogh, the orange in the face, beard and jacket lift the figure up and away from the cool-colored background

Ståle Grut on Unsplash

We can go back even further, thousands of years in the past, in ancient Egypt. They used orange pigment in their hieroglyphic paintings on tomb walls, though the pigment can’t be recommended for use anymore as it was highly toxic. Similarly, in ancient Rome, it was a popular color choice in paintings, mosaics, and beyond (and also toxic). Throughout Asia as well, it holds a high level of significance religiously in Confucianism and Buddhism, being largely associated with spirituality.

It is a color of many names; the English-speaking world has adopted the name orange from the well-loved citrus. There are many variations of this when translated into other languages as well, but all root back to the name of the orange fruit. However, that name only came about relatively recently, being called yellow-red for many years before the 16th century. The name Saffron is also common as well, named for the sprigs of the flower, and is still used in many places that practice Buddhism.

The Psychology of Orange

With this use of orange in art and world religion, it is a color of high reverence. It holds a lot of visual sway when it comes to commanding the viewer’s eye and instilling energy in whatever it touches, and this hasn’t changed. When we are confronted with orange, the brain associates it with happiness, energy, attention, and caution. There are a lot of different variations of orange as well, ranging from red-orange to yellow-orange. There is an inherent sense of comfort and attentiveness when it is saturated on the redder side of its spectrum and a higher level of energy with a higher saturation on the yellower side. This allows for many choices in tones to get exactly the feeling you’re looking to elicit.

Slice of oranges piled together

Vino Li on Unsplash

The bright nature of the color is seen all throughout nature in autumn forests, pumpkin patches, fruit groves, animals, and beyond. So while it may feel artificial, it is greatly present in the world around us. When we encounter oranges in nature, it is almost as if by instinct to pay attention to them. As we evolved to seek out risks, you will see some poisonous animals employ it as a way to caution those opportunistic eaters that may think it’s a good idea to prey on them, or in fruits that have evolved for high-visibility to be eaten and thus have their seeds spread. These types of deep color associations are hard-wired in us through our evolution and are non-cultural roots of color psychology.

While through the evolution of our society, as we know it, we have seen orange becoming almost synonymous with high-energy and happiness. This reinforces the associations we already have in our own minds and allows them to proliferate through our culture of orange being high-energy, vibrant, and joyful. This is easy to do a quick test with by holding an orange object in one hand and a blue (a calming color) object in the other and feeling the difference in effect the colors have on your own psyche.

The Use of Orange in Branding

As brands are always looking for ways to stand out from the crowd, one easy way is to employ a color that demands attention. If you’re in a space where your brand deals with excitement, activity, or citrus, orange is likely a great choice for you. It can help you stand out and bring customers happiness just by looking at your brand materials, which is a great disposition to have associated with your company.

Brand Examples

Nickelodeon

Nickelodeon Logo

For all the 90’s kids out there, nothing was more iconic on TV than the Nick splat logo. It was a mainstay for many years and made it pop out against the competition and left a lasting impression. It immediately established the brand as something high-energy and fun that brought kids joy. Thinking of Nickelodeon’s programming as well, this was incredibly appropriate for the company that ran shows like Spongebob, Ren & Stimpy, and Jimmy Neutron, which tend to have a lot of fast-pacing and excitement.

Orangetheory

Orangetheory Logo

The fitness chain Orangetheory can be clearly seen driving by any strip mall. The sign alone commands attention, and when paired with the brand’s upbeat voice, it’s a fitness brand that stands out from the rest. Most people have a positive association with it due to the branding alone, even having never taken a class there. They even choose to use orange machinery and lighting in their interiors, further pushing that energy and taking advantage of color psychology to push people through a rigorous workout.

HubSpot

HubSpot Logo

We couldn’t miss an opportunity to talk about how great HubSpot’s branding is (yes, we’re a partner, but I swear we’re not biased.) Their use of orange in their branding allows them to really stand out from the crowd of logos within the CRM space, where many are blue, orange’s complementary color that strongly contrasts and demands attention. The use of orange is also a fabulous reflection of the company’s personality: happy, high-energy, and inspiring delight in their users. This allows for the color use to also feel incredibly authentic to the company rather than a ploy to stand out in their field.

Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Banana?

The color orange is known to be very polarizing; when you ask a given person how they feel about it, they tend to either love it or hate it. This can be said for many things with a strong personality, whether people, brands, or in this case, even colors. Regardless, it is a color that demands attention, inspires joy, and gives people vigor. It is a great choice, too, for your brand if it speaks truth to your company’s personality.

Let us know where you fall on the spectrum of loving or hating orange, and if you need help with deciding on your brand’s color.

Images Sources & Credits: 

Maxime Lebrun on Unsplash.

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