• American inspiration
  • All in the mind? Psychology of colour and positioning


    Usual contributor, Neil Whitehead, looks at the psychology of shopping: Design territory

    Understanding the psychology of shopping – what affects the moods, perceptions and choices of the shopper – and knowing how and when to use thin within retailing, can play a crucial role in the impact of design.


    Springtime is beckoning. The seemingly long, cold dark, post-Christmas months are fading. There is a new energy in the air as we look forward to the unfolding changes that will lead to summer.

    There are many visceral associations and expectations embedded within the seasons. Combined with other social and economical factors this naturally affects how we feel and our level of confidence at a given time in the year.

    Colour has a huge part to play in this. In fact colours are integral to the ways people respond to everything, right from birth. It has long been recognized that colour can affect mood and even behaviour, but a full appreciation of the scope and opportunities behind this is rarely taken advantage of.

    Falling into groups, colours reflect various moods and characteristics. Yellow is recognized as indicating creativity and sprit, blue for knowledge and thought, and red for stimulation. Of course, this is simplifying things greatly. There is negativity in colours too and the tone, balance and combinations can make all the difference, but the power of colour is phenomenal.

    Colour needs to reflect and represent both your business offering and strategy.

    What is important is how you differentiate and show what drives your business. Tesco shows real value through confident strong, sharp colours where Waitrose focuses on quality and security through softer shades. Banks have moved into a confident phase where previously the focus was on safety and warmth. The mood is now more driven and HSBC position themselves as global decision makers seeming dominant over the competition with sharp contrast of red and white.


    Product placement in-store is another essential layer affecting perception. With so much competition, physical positioning and layout are critical.

    Research continues to give us more and more insight into the psychology of eyelines – how we look around and absorb visually. When confronted with multiple levels of product, the human eye tends to look down to a level lower than you’d naturally expect. This type of information allows stores to exploit prime positions and displays to maximise sales of heir own-brand products.

    Physically, retailers need to manoeuvre their customers. We’ve long known how escalators and stairs can circulate flow whilst displays in aisle walkways can bounce customers into certain route. For the retailer it is balance between obstructing or frustrating the client and guiding them to, and through, the emporium of other goods on offer.

    Departmental type stores are slowly responding to an understanding of the different mindsets around buying different types of products. The likes of M&S used to treat all goods and areas in a homogenised way, but now they are recognising that buying a dress is very a different experience to buying underwear or food,  and departments need to be organized in different co-ordinated ways. Products with higher margins require space around them to exude the sense of luxury whilst packing product densely creates a feel of value and affordability.

    Some of this may sound obvious, but we should not underestimate the lessons to be learnt. The key point here for retailers and brand owners is that the impact of good design comes from finding and communicating the uniqueness of brand. Retail environments are full of opportunities to influence and motivate responses and choices. Looking further into the phsyhology behind all this give us the tools and understanding to relate this uniqueness effectively and engagingly through design, branding and positioning.

    March 2005