Why are colours so important to us?
We are confronted with colours from the day we are born through the rest of our lives. In this context, colours play a strong emotional role in our daily routines, as they are connected to learning and memories, which facilitate awareness and recognition in all aspects of life.
Essentially, the culture that we were raised in has a strong influence on how we perceive different colours and which meaning they convey.
Over the years, contextual experiences lead to personal preferences, which explains why most people rank and have a favourite colour.
Colours are highly attractive to us.
They stimulate brain activity and are processed in the visual cortex’s colour centre of our brains. Furthermore, they are powerful influencers, as they can set a certain mood, induce physiological processes or trigger certain behaviours. In fact, there is a widespread consensus among researchers that colours are essential to fields such as marketing, market research, branding etc.
So how does this colour psychology apply to survey design and survey-taking?
Colours in surveys: beneficial or detrimental?
Colours can be utilized in surveys in different ways and may evoke different emotional reactions
- Font Colouring: adding colour to the font of your question texts or answer options
- Theme Colouring: customising the overall survey theme including, e.g., overall background colour, font colour, and question background colour
- Image Colouring: questions and answer options may both contain images and dispense with text altogether if desired
These colouring options can be based on various motivations or goals. Logos with company colours, for instance, tend to aim at ensuring brand awareness and recognition. Organisational colours may dominate survey themes to elicit comfort and trust in respondents. Images within question texts or answer options may be used to visually simplify the effort for respondents when testing brand, packaging or advertisement alternatives. This is just a small fraction of possible areas where the use of colors can be applied.
However, determining the extent of benefits or detriments is strongly case-dependent. Factors that determine whether colours in surveys lead to higher or lower response rates and better or worse response quality are characteristics like target audience culture, residence, age, gender. There are also other factors such as survey format, e.g., a market research survey or a survey in the form of a quiz, a survey with a goal such as data retrieval or a survey for entertainment purposes. Therefore, the question remains whether to use colours in surveys, and if so, how to use them
6 tips for using colours in surveys
As there is a lack of research dedicated to colour usage within survey design and its implications towards response rates and data quality, we can’t profess to know the right way to deal with colours when creating a survey, as there is no scientific evidence to back it.
Nevertheless, we have gathered 6 valuable tips that can give you a good orientation for the usage of colours in surveys to ensure a more strategic approach.
- A/B Test: If you are not certain whether to integrate specific colouring into your survey or not, there is always the possibility of A/B testing. Set up the same survey in different variations, i.e., split a survey into one with colour options and another with a more neutral look and feel. Test these on two smaller subgroups of your sample group to get an idea which version performs better.
- Readability: It is essential that text in your survey is easy to read. The lighter the font colour the harder it becomes to read. If you decide to use font colours, select darker colours, as they facilitate readability.
- Minimalist Design: When in doubt, go for a minimalist design when it comes to using colours in surveys rather than a maximalist design. Too many colours and images may create a cluttered effect, which looks unprofessional.
- Colour Contrasts: Make sure to apply colour contrasts in case you are working with background colours and font colours at the same time. I.e., avoid using the same colour for both elements, otherwise the text might become partially or fully invisible.
- Colour Intuition: Avoid a response bias by making a conscious effort to not use colours in a misleading way. For example, a coloured response scale should go hand in hand with an intuitive colour distribution. I.e., a more positive response expression (e.g., “Strongly agree”) should use green colour shades and not red ones, and vice versa for a more negative response expression (e.g., “Strongly disagree”).
- Colour Harmonisation: From a design perspective, it makes sense to combine colours that harmonise well to maximise the quality of the survey feel. Shades of the same colour, for instance, will harmonise better than using two or more bright colours from different ends of the colour palette.
Don’t forget to do your research!
It is vital to do your homework before splashing colours around in your survey. Always bear in mind that colours can have completely different meanings in different countries and cultures. Hence,
you have to be sensitive to your target audience's cultural background to avoid pitfalls and collect the best data possible in terms of quantity and quality. Fortunately, nowadays there is a wealth of information available on colours, cultures and psychology on the internet. For example, the creative platform Shutterstock
, which provides images and videos to the public, has a good grasp on colours in media, as well as the emotional effects of colour, posted in a clear and insightful article on the Symbolism of colors and color meanings around the world
Check it out for yourself. Better safe than sorry!