How to select colors for target audience based on age?


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?

4/13/2017 12:46:00 PM

Accepted Answer

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.)"

9/9/2015 6:57:00 PM

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."