For most of us, a rainbow of colours envelopes our lives. Over 80% of visual information is related to colour.¹ What colours and combinations of colours stimulate people to be interested in different things? What colours make us feel pleasure or disapproval, hot or cold, to be attracted or repelled, our appetite stimulated or suppressed?
Many reactions to colour are instinctual, universal and cross cultural boundaries. “Colors also convey messages that go beyond ethnic, racial, or gender boundaries. According to a 1997 survey by Cooper Marketing Group, Oak Park, IL, power is represented by the color scarlet red for 25% of respondents, black for 17% and bright violet blue for 13%. More than 55% of those surveyed chose one of these three colors out of 100 colors. Fragility was most represented by pale pink (27%), white (9%), and pale lavender (9%).”²
Other associations with colours are specific to a culture or regions. Mixing appropriate amounts of different colours however can neutralise inherent negative cultural connotations.
Web design which achieves successful marketing results is sensitive to the cultural, instinctual and iconic meanings of colour in relation to the product being promoted and considers the cultural backgrounds and gender of the targeted clientele. Avoiding the extremes of sheer garishness and boredom, effective design displays symphonic colour arrangements of shades, tints, tones and complementarities to tantalise and maintain interest. Adding textures too can alter colours – a roughly textured surface makes a colour seem darker, while a smooth surface lightens the same colour.
Colour trends may defy instinctual, cultural and iconic constraints – for example, the periodic crazes for vivid lime green. As Jill Morton says: “Psychologically, the ‘anti-aesthetic’ colors may well capture more attention than those on the aesthetically-correct list. History clearly demonstrates that this has been a prevalent trend in art since the turn of the 20th century, when Dada’s urinals and snow shovels put an end to the era of Matisse and French Impressionism.”³
China : Traditional bridal colour, good luck, celebration, happiness, joy, vitality, long life, summoning, the direction South. Chinese saying goes “when something is so red, it is purple” – red purple brings luck and fame.
Japan : life
India : Purity
Eastern : Joy (with white)
Hebrew : sacrifice, sin
Christian : sacrifice, passion, love
USA : Christmas (with green), Valentine’s day (with white)
South Africa : Mourning
Australian aboriginals : the land, earth, ceremonial ochre
Cherokees : success
Hopi : the direction South
Romans : Red flag signified the onset of battle
Celtic : Death, afterlife
Feng Shui : Yang, Fire, good luck, money, respect, recognition, protection, vitality
good-tasting, force, leadership, drama, excitement, speed, heat, warmth, violence, attention, generosity, romance
Red stimulates metabolism, increases respiration rate, perspiration, appetite and raises blood pressure. Red is a strong masculine colour.
Red tends to promote images and text, making objects appear larger and closer, though less than yellow coloured objects. Bright red can be annoying if used over large areas and is useful as a iconic colour to encourage people to act quickly eg. on buy or click here buttons. An apetite stimulant, red is useful for promoting products associated with energy … drinks, cars, sports and games.
Care is need using red in proximity with green … as the old adage goes: ‘Red and green should not be seen without something in between’.
Mixing bright blue and bright red is also not recommended … the combination is very tiring on the eye.
Light red : joy, sexuality, passion, sensitivity, love, indecision
Dark red : willpower, rage, wrath, tenseness, vigour, anger, leadership, courage, yearning, malice, wrath
Maroon : Yang, indecisiveness
East India : Feminine colour
Japan : Popular with both sexes
Korea : trust
Feng Shui : Yin, love
Pale pink : sweetness of youth, fragility
Vibrant pinks : high spirits, energy, youth
European : Autumn, creativity, harvest
Netherlands : Favourite colour (House of Orange)
Ireland : Protestants
USA : Halloween, cheap goods
Hinduism : Saffron (peachy orange) is a sacred color
Feng Shui : Yang, Earth, strengthens concentration, purpose, organization
In restaurants, as orange is an appetite stimulant, orange decor encourages sales. Less passionate than red, orange still increases oxygen supply to the brain, stimulating mental activity. Popular amongst youth.
Orange backgrounds help images seem closer and larger, but avoid over-use. Useful for highlighting important elements, promoting food products and toys.
“As we turned our sights to orange, substantial research (including the data gathered at The Global Color Survey at www.colormatters.com and the Pantone Consumer Color Preference Study® dated June 1996) documented that orange is one of Americans’ least favorite colors. … In 1991, Forbes called attention to orange’s mundane associations in its December 23 article, ‘Does orange mean cheap?’ Yes, it does.”4
Dark orange : autumn, deceit, distrust
Red orange : desire, sexuality, pleasure, domination, aggression, thirst for action
Bright orange : tangy citrus, health
Pale orange : apricot, coral, peach and melon are sophisticated
Australian Aboriginals : colour of the land, ceremonial ochre
Feng Shui : Yang, Earth, industry, grounded
Brown is too low key if used broadly without texture or another color to enhance it. Useful for promoting food and outdoor products for work and play.
Reddish-brown : harvest, autumn
Beiges and tans : Yang, sophistication, neatness, conceals emotion
Copper : passion, money goals, professional growth, business productivity, career moves
Coffee browns : sophistication, richness, robustness, panache
Feng Shui : Yang, Metal, God consciousness
quests of the heart, desire for power, mystic powers, higher mathematics, sciences, attainment, concentration.
Gold and navy (credibility) are the best combination for selling to men and the second best for selling to women.
Asia : sacred, imperial
China : Nourishing, royalty
Egypt : Mourning
Japan : Courage
India : Merchants
Buddhism : wisdom
Feng Shui : Yang, Earth, auspicious, sunbeams, warmth, motion
Yellow stimulates mental activity, generates muscle energy and attracts attention – it is the colour most visible to the human eye. Thus yellow objects move to the forefront. Students who study in yellow rooms do better in exams. Cheerful yellow can be used to promote food especially in combination with other fruit and vegetable tones, children’s and leisure products and is best used as a highlight. With overuse, yellow can be disturbing and promote anxiety. Babies cry more in yellow rooms. Yellow against black denotes a warning … the sting of the bee.
Yellow is not a practical colour to use when selling expensive items to men … they perceive it as an untrustworthy and childish … and avoid yellow if you
wish to evoke safety and stability. Care is needed with shades of yellow as they can lose their warmth and appear dirty.
Dull yellow : caution, decay, sickness, jealousym aging
Light yellow : intellect, freshness, and joy
Ivory/cream : quiet, pleasantness, calm, understated elegance, purity, softness, more rich and warm than white
Japan : Life.
Islam : Hope – the cloak of the prophet was thought to be green, virtue – only those of perfect faith can wear green.
Ireland: Symbol of the entire country, Catholics
European/USA : Spring, new birth, go, safe, environmental awareness, Saint Patrick’s Day, Christmas (with red)
USA : Money
Feng Shui : Yin, Wood, growing energy, refreshing, nurturing, balancing, harmony normalising, healing, health, peaceful, calming
Green lowers blood pressure, relaxes the nervous system, calms and soothes the mind, stimulates creativity, and is an appetite suppressant. Green is easy on the eye and can improve vision. Images set in green backgrounds seem farther away. Green is popular in most cultures.
Useful as a marketing colour for organic, healthy and natural ‘green’ products.
Dark green : money, ambition, greed, jealousy, heaviness, prestige, promotes concentration
Yellow-green/lime green : sickness, cowardice, discord, and jealousy, nausea – don’t use this colour for promoting food products as it’s an appetite depressant.
Olive green : peace
Avocado : 60s and 70s refridgerators
Blue greens : most accepted colour group across gender lines
Turquoise is equally popular with men and women. Mixes well with pale pinks and lavenders for a feminine look. Create a retro scenario
with turquoise and pink or art deco by combining it with white and black. Combined with grey, silver, terra cotta and tans, it produces a
southwestern USA look. With orange or yellow, it creates an innovative, fresh image suitable for sports-oriented sites.5
Light Turquoise : feminine
Teal : sophisticated
Cherokees : defeat, trouble
Iran : mourning
China : immortality
Colombia : soap
Hinduism : the colour of Krishna
Judaism : holiness
Christianity : Christ’s colour
Catholicism : colour of Mary’s robe
Middle East : protection
Worldwide : ‘safe’ colour
Feng Shui : Yin, Water, calm, love, healing, relaxation, peace, trust, adventure, exploration
calming, higher thoughts, mystery, sky, formality, travel, devotion, progress, quiet wisdom, freedom. betterment of humanity, love, trust, loyalty, intelligence, reassurance, artistry, compassion, inner strength, devotion, depression, sadness, tranquility, stability, unity, truth, understanding, confidence, acceptance, conservatism, security, cleanliness, order, comfort, cold, technology, devotion, harmony, depth, faith, heaven, piety, sincerity, precision, intellect, sadness, consciousness, speech, messages, ideas, sharing, cooperation, idealism, sincerity, empathy, relaxation, affection, inspiration, friendship, patience, contemplation, infinity, harmony, non-threatening, dependability
Some believe blue slows the metabolism and suppresses the appetite. As it does not require the eye to focus, images and objects recede in blue backgrounds.
With overuse, can create feelings of cold. Although also popular with women, blue is the predominant favourite colour of males and is suited to web sites involving and promoting technology, medical products, cleanliness, air, sky, water, sea and automotives. Blue is the favourite colour of more than half of the world’s people – it is the colour least disliked by most cultures.
High impact designs can be created with combinations of blue, red and yellow. Combinations of light and dark blues can create feelings of trust.
Pale Blue : ethereal, delicate, calming, health, healing, tranquility, understanding, softness
In combination with pinks and pale yellows, creates the image of spring.
Aqua : freshness, pristine, vigour, movement, dramatic, confidence, strength, individualism, eccentricity, humour, fearlessness, festivity
Royal Blue : richness, superiority, cold
Dark Blue : depth, expertise, stability, credibility (especially with gold), intellect, wisdom, corporate colour, warmth, knowledge, power, integrity, seriousness, knowledge, health, decisiveness, law, order, logic, dependability, serenity
Combining dark and lighter shades of blue creates a conservative and sophisticated look.
European : Royalty
Catholicism : Mourning, death, crucifixion
Feng Shui : Yin, spiritual awareness, physical and mental healing
Almost 75 percent of pre-adolescent children prefer purple to all other colors, making bright purple effective for promotion of children’s products. Light purple is useful for feminine designs. Excessive exposure to purple may cause people to become sullen, withdrawn and ill-at-ease with their surroundings. Purple is a polarising colour – people either love it or hate it.
Lavender : Yang, sexual indecision, malleability, romance, nostalgia, feminity
Dark purple : gloom, sadness, frustration, royalty, richness
Mauve : Yang, world consciousness
Violet : Meditation, creativity, concentration, quietness, creative force, beauty, inspiration, artistry, music, chivalrous love, excellence, ethereal, sensuality,
Blue purple : mystical
Red purple : sensual, quirky
Japan : Mourning, white carnation means death
China : Death, mourning
India : Unhappiness
Eastern : Funerals
Feng Shui : Yang, Metal, death, mourning, ancestal spirits, ghosts, poise, confidence
snow, good, sterility, cold, clinical, sterility, clarity, perfection, innocence, virginity, goodness, light, fairness, safety, positivity, faith, coolness, charity, successful innovations, union, self-sacrifice, holiness, feminine divinity, pristine, chastity, positivity
All white rooms can be uncomfortable with a stark atmosphere. White is useful for a background or accent colour as it highlights other colours. White is perceived by the eye as a brilliant colour.
White can indicate simplicity with high-tech products and safety and cleanliness with medical products.
astral energies, female power, communication, goddess, ornate riches, sleekness, modernity
To create a high-tech look, use silver with other colours. Silver works well combined with gold and white to promote a feeling of control and power.
Silver and other reflectors are strong eye attractors and are associated with life-giving water.
professional, sophisticated, durability, quality, quiet, conservativeness, gloominess, sadness
China : Colour for young boys
Thailand : Bad luck, unhappiness, evil
Judaism : Unhappiness, bad luck, evil
Aboriginal People in Australia : colour of the people, ceremonial ochre
Feng Shui : Yin, Water, money, income, career success, emotional protection, power, stability, bruises, evil
Black is an excellent technical colour and it assist targeting a sophisticated high-end market or a youth market to add mystery.
Over a large area, black can be depressing. Though black backgrounds can enhance perspective and depth, they diminish readability of text. Useful for web sites for art and photography to help other colours to vibrate.
To share your thoughts with the author of this article about the meaning of colours, please feel free to register and comment on the Sibagraphics blog.
© 2004, 2006, 2009, 2017, 2020.
¹ Jill Morton, http://www.colormatters.com/color_trademark.html
² Kathy Lamancusa, 2003, http://www.creativelatitude.com/articles/articles_lamacusa_color.html
³ Jill Morton, 2000, http://www.colormatters.com/chatquest.html
5 Jacci Howard Bear, https://www.thoughtco.com/turquoise-color-meanings-1073973
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