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Are colors and color combinations at all dictated by the age of your target demographic / audience? Since I think most would say yes than how do might I go about selecting appropriate colors for that audience?

Do I go off what competitors do? I don't know where they decided those colors.

Do I go off what leaders in that demographic do? Similarly I don't know where they decided those colors and if it works because of their demographic or works because of their product.

For example, Am I using too much gray on my webapp?, seems to feel Gray / Grey is an appropriate dull color for an older market segment. Where do they get this from? Is there any validity to it?

The website, Empower Yourself With Color, has a section on Age Based Color Preferences, but no reference to where it got any of it from. It also leaves a lot to be desired.

How do I select colors appropriate for the target demographic?

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Joe Hallock did a study on personal color preferences in 2003. He included links to his own color psychology references, but the data he gathered himself is pretty compelling (even if from a relatively small sample size, primarily from the United States).

This quote from one of his references is interesting: "With maturity comes a greater liking for hues of shorter wave length (blue, green, purple) than for hues of longer wave length (red, orange, and yellow)." - Faber Birren

Colour Assignment Study by Joe Hallock (section 5 has his findings on age-based color preferences)

Graphs from Hallock's own survey:

favorite color by age group

Hallock says of his Favorite Color by Age Group findings: "As you can see, blue, green, and purple make up the majority of responses. What’s interesting is the preference of green in the younger age groups and the preference of purple in the older age groups. One could say, by looking at this graph alone, that as people become older their preference for purple increases, while their preference for green decreases. Previous academic or research publications regarding this specific anomaly were not found during this project so the ability to compare and contrast these results with other results isn’t possible at this time. M. M. Terwogy and J. B. Hoeksma did a research study on colors and emotions with regards to preferences and combinations and they noted that as people get older, their preferences are likely to change as a result of social and cultural influences. They state, “As children grow up they learn that the expression of anger is often punished. They also learn that the color black (within Western culture) is associated with mourning.” (Color and Emotions, 7) They also state that the effects of color preferences are still present at later stages of life, but these preferences are outweighed by other (as yet unidentified) factors (Color and Emotions, 16)."

least favorite color by age group

Of his Least Favorite Color by Age Group findings, Hallock says: "Birren seems to be correct about the color orange and its lack of popularity among older people. The bar chart shows orange increasing as part of the whole throughout the age groups of the participants. This survey’s results regarding the color yellow also correlate well with Birren’s data. As you can see, yellow slowly becomes less popular as age increases. (Note – the age group of 70+ participants only consists of 5 people. That might be why the graph seems to lose consistency near the upper age groups.)"

  • It'd be nice if you quoted the relevant part of the post in your answer itself just incase the website goes down – Zach Saucier Sep 9 '15 at 18:42
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    I also think if you review the gender data is exceptionally close to the age data (barring 70+). But good find! – Scott Sep 9 '15 at 18:46
  • @ZachSaucier Good call! Added. – Vicki Sep 9 '15 at 19:01
  • @Scott Yeah, that's bizarre! It sounds like his sample pool for the upper age ranges was pretty small though (less than 10 people), that might explain any strange apparent correlations. Regardless, interesting stuff! – Vicki Sep 9 '15 at 19:01
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    Strangely enough, most sweaters from the 80s had all of the colors from the least-favorite graph for 25-35 year olds. – Yorik Sep 9 '15 at 20:06
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1. Contrast and Clarity

Contrast is probably the most important thing to consider regarding the choice of colors for the 2 groups of age at the extremes; very young and very old!

The choice of color itself should be based on clarity first for these 2 groups for age for simple reasons; it needs to be easy to read for the younger ones who are still learning the "symbols" that are letters and words, but also the older ones who might suffer more from vision problems.

2. Comfort

As for what kind of green, red or blue to choose then it's more a question of trends and culture once the clarity part has been fixed. What's important about the choice of color is to consider what is the website used for; you could use a bright yellow or black background with bright text for a stock market website but you might make the people who need to stare at it for hours hate your choice of color and have some headaches! But if your website is more promotional then you simply choose the colors that fit the demographic and target market.

3. Trend, Culture and Preferences

People often project themselves in their preference of colors and the reason why some colors are preferred more than others at different ages and gender is probably more cultural than anything. For example, pink and peach colors were not always considered as a feminine color. In some countries, bright colors may look "cheap" to some adults but are greatly appreciated in other parts of the world where chemical dyes are not as popular as natural ones or where the culture associate these colors with positive projections. Knowing what your target market wants to "project" and identify with, and what is the history of colors for that cultural group will already gives you good clues on what colors to use.

So first important things to consider are clarity and contrast, then comfort, then trend & culture.

Cultural background cannot be ignored and studies made on this were often 1) not testing all the colors in a scientific way and 2) not testing all the sample based on the cultures in the ratio they represent.

Interesting because I stumbled on this graphic below earlier today. Not only it's a good example of a very poor choice of colors and contrast, but the info on that pyramid might add up to the topic of "priority in design."

Pyramid of design needs

Regarding the "emotions" of colors, I can't really expand as I don't believe in this in the new-age way often used to describe this; I personally think it's all a matter of visual comfort, light reflection and association more than anything literally "emotional."

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Age doesn't matter when referencing color.

At 20 years old or at 70 years old gender is (generally) the same. And it's often gender which plays a larger role in color preferences than age ever will.

There are tons of studies referencing color preference by gender:

http://thegeeksverse.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/SexOrColorPref.pdf (PDF)

https://blog.kissmetrics.com/gender-and-color/

http://www.colormatters.com/color-symbolism/gender-differences

https://www.sherwin-williams.com/home-builders/color/education/sw-article-pro-theroleofgender.html

After gender, possibly the next contributing factor may be socioeconomic status (PDF). However, user/reader age isn't really a factor when considering color.

I think your link to "Empower Yourself with Color" is all really just generalizations on age regarding anything. You can substitute practically any "taste" preference into that article/page and it still works.... "Babies cry more in a room with loud music... Pre-adolescents prefer bright, shiny music.... Young adults are open to experimenting with music... Adults tend to prefer more subdued music" I think they pulled that article out of.... somewhere. While all this is relatively true in general, as far as I'm aware, it's kind of common sense for anything not just color preference. i.e. "If its too loud, you're too old."

So, if anything age may play a role in vibrance preference, but not color.

In my own experience, demographic age has never been a factor while gender is pretty much always a factor. Once a "consumer" reaches buying age they tend to settle into the same generalized preferences for marketing. I've designed a great many direct response pieces which are often targeted to differing age demographics. As long as I'm aware of how the gender skews in the audience and design with that in mind, I've never personally seen any major fluctuation in return rates due to varying demographic ages. A piece designed for 30 year old men (or women) tends to do as well as a piece designed for 60 year old men (or women). It's when a piece designed for men is marketed towards women, or vice versa, that returns show marked differences.

Using the "Empower Yourself" over-generalization, you can see that things like MTV, which markets to teenagers and young adults, uses a much louder, in-your-face, busy design sense. Color isn't so much a factor as just "liveliness" to entice the young buyers ("look at the fast moving bright thing kid!").

If age is a factor at all it's more about general aesthetics than any specific color use. The older the demographic the less they are enticed by vibrant, busy, seemingly "loud" designs.

  • Do you have any studies or data to backup the claim that age doesn't effect color preferences? Or that Vibrance/Brightness does? – Ryan Sep 9 '15 at 16:58
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    @Ryan I don't think there are any. Or I've never seen nor heard of any because age really isn't a contributing factor. – Scott Sep 9 '15 at 17:00
  • Don't you think saying its not a contributing factor without any evidence is just as arbitrary as saying it is? – Ryan Sep 9 '15 at 17:01
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    Possibly. :) Based upon demographics of the pieces I've worked on, I've never seen a fluctuation due to color when the demographics are skewed for age. So, really it's more my experience than arbitrary. At least for me. As long as I keep target gender in mind when designing, returns have been relatively the same even when the demographic age is different. – Scott Sep 9 '15 at 17:04
  • In addition, most "consumers" are adults. Once you reach adult status the preferences in luminosity/vibrance/business kind of gets set in stone. As per the Empower Yourself article.. it's all just general age-based preference for anything. – Scott Sep 9 '15 at 17:06
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Are colors and color combinations at all dictated by the age of your target demographic / audience?

Aside from newborns (who pretty much only see extremely high contrast black, red, white) I'd say 'no'. There's no particular correlation between age demographics and any particular colors.

How might I go about selecting appropriate colors for that audience?

This is a pretty broad question. There's many many ways to go about choosing colors. But I wouldn't choose colors purely on the demographic information. You need to base the color decision on the bigger context.

Do I go off what competitors do? I don't know where they decided those colors.

Analyzing the competition is always a good thing.

For example, Am I using too much gray on my website?, seems to feel Gray / Grey is an appropriate dull color for an older market segment. Where do they get this from? Is there any validity to it?

Grey is dull in that it doesn't posses any particular tint. But I don't it's valid to say it's dull for any one particular demographic.

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I can say that you can base your choice on fashion, I mean look those brands that make clothes for your audience, they have many color combinations and shades that can help you to pick the right colors.

Think this, they (the biggest brands) make statistics of what their people like, so they use colors for a reason. You might as well take advantage of this information.

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    I think Ryan is asking for sources on those things. Obviously they have their reasons for picking what they pick but it sounds like he'd like to know why. – Hanna Sep 9 '15 at 15:41
  • I'd say this does help answer the question. Color is a big part of fashion. Fashion is a trend setter. It's never a bad idea to follow fashion trends in regards to color. – DA01 Sep 9 '15 at 18:48
  • @DA01 I guess that's the question though, right? What are THOSE designers basing their color choices on? What research are the bigger brands working from, and why does it skew one way or the other? – Vicki Sep 9 '15 at 19:07
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    @Vicki I think there's a danger in assuming all design decisions are data based. Design is equal parts art. There are color trend experts out there but honestly, part of it is just saying you are a trend expert and therefore people will follow. (BTW, a big part of color trends is to just ensure there are new colors each season to push further purchases) – DA01 Sep 9 '15 at 19:21
  • @DA01I think that is a very fair point. :) – Vicki Sep 9 '15 at 19:22

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