Stop Waffling and Get That Brightly Coloured Gadget—Science Suggests You'll Like It More

By Sam Rutherford on at

The process of buying a new gadget is full of traps and pitfalls. How much should I spend? Which model is better? Do I really need that much storage? And then, just when you think you’ve got everything figured out, the real boss battle raises its head: What colour do I get?

For such a simple question—and something that has practically zero impact on the actual performance of the device—trying to decide on a colour is often a lot harder than it seems. So to help demystify the process a little, scientists from USC Marshall conducted a study to see what kind of effect a gadget’s colour had on its long-term likeability. And the results? In short, don’t be scared; skip the black and silver and go with the hue or shade that really speaks to you.

In their experiment, Eve C. Buechel and Claudia Townsend separated products into two categories: high-arousal devices (like those with intense colours or complex patterns) and low-arousal products designed with less stimulating colours like beige, black, or silver. From there, they performed a series of tests that involved asking participants to evaluate each product on things like predicted likeability or irritation, and then again after participants had gotten a chance to actually use each product over varying periods of time.

At the end of the study what the team discovered was two-fold. Not only did people incorrectly overestimate how irritated they would feel about products with high-arousal designs in the future, the study also showed that in situations where people chose devices with bright colours and intense patterns from the start, they also underestimated just how much satisfaction they expected a get from a high-arousal device after repeated use.

Now, this doesn’t mean that companies need to start slapping all-over-print, wild designs, or neon colours onto every new device. But it does suggest that in general colourful devices do tend to make us enjoy the product a tiny bit more over time.

This conclusion might sound kind of obvious, because for someone who already likes the colour red, it sort of stands to reason that they would probably like a red phone or laptop more than a silver one.

The concerning thing for me is that people’s tendency to play it safe with colours can become a sad, self-perpetuating trend where gadget makers don’t make colourful devices because people won’t buy them, and when they do, people don’t go for more interesting designs because they’ve become so accustomed to only having a couple boring choices.

You can sort of see this in action when you look at laptops. For years, multiple major computer makers have told me that, especially in the US, black and silver are the only colours that perform well. Some attribute this to business professionals not wanting to distract others with loud colours while, say, attending a meeting, but that doesn’t explain the general dearth of colourful laptops.

Thankfully, we’ve started to see that trend fade away in recent years with systems like the Surface Laptop (which is available in burgundy, cobalt, and gold, on top of standard silver), and various gaming systems, which often make up for using too much black plastic by cramming RGB lighting into every nook and cranny.

And when it comes to smartphones, things are even better for people who want lots of colour options, as Huawei, Samsung, and most recently Apple have added a wide range of alluring colour variants to choose from.

But what about cases? Won’t they just cover everything up? No biggie, just pick the colourful protective covering that suits your fancy, and if there’s some loud paint peeking out from behind the case, that’s probably a good thing.

Either way, the takeaway is clear. Don’t be afraid to embrace something besides silver or black, especially if you’re already finding yourself pulled towards a unique and interesting hue.