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The Meaning of Color

Posted on: October 22nd, 2014 by Aaron Nabus

As we transition from Summer to Fall, one can’t help but notice the change in color. Look outside at the leaves and foliage. Go to your local farmer’s market and check out the new fall season produce. Open up the latest fashion magazines that are using the latest fall color palettes.

Why is color so important?

Analytically, you could describe colors using terms such as “lightness” (light vs. dark, or white vs. black),  “saturation” (intense vs. dull) and “hue” (red, orange, yellow, green, blue or purple).

But what about their meaning…their emotional content (we aren’t robots after all)?

When you listen to the Star Wars theme by John Williams, how does that make you feel? Color is no different – color is to the eye, what music is to the ear. As a pioneer of the American Modernism art movement, Georgia O’Keeffe, once said, “I found I could say things with color & shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.”

Here is a list of a few colors and their typical meanings.

Red is a very emotionally intense color and is often used to represent fire and blood, so it is associated with energy, war, danger, strength, power, determination as well as passion, desire and love.

  • Light red represents joy, sexuality, passion, sensitivity and love.
  • Pink signifies romance, love and friendship. It denotes feminine qualities and passiveness.
  • Dark red is associated with vigor, willpower, rage, anger, leadership, courage, longing, malice and wrath.
  • Brown suggests stability and denotes masculine qualities.
  • Reddish-brown is associated with harvest and fall.

Orange is usually associated with the sun and the tropics, so it’s no surprise that it is often used to represent enthusiasm, fascination, happiness, creativity, determination, attraction, success, encouragement and stimulation. Additionally, orange is also known as the color of autumn and the harvest. Highly visible, it is effective in promoting food products and toys.

  • Dark orange can mean deceit and distrust.
  • Red-orange corresponds to desire, sexual passion, pleasure, domination, aggression and thirst for action.
  • Gold evokes the feeling of prestige. The meaning of gold is illumination, wisdom and wealth. Gold often symbolizes high quality.

Yellow, like orange, can also be used to represent the sun. It’s associated with joy, happiness, intellect and energy. Used frequently for Taxi cabs, it is very visible from a distance. However, it should be used sparingly since too much of it can cause in increase in anxiety.

  • Dull (dingy) yellow represents caution, decay, sickness and jealousy.
  • Light yellow is associated with intellect, freshness and joy.

Green is the color of nature – it symbolizes growth, harmony, freshness and fertility. Additionally, green, as opposed to red, has a strong emotional correspondence with safety (especially with traffic lights). Many health related companies use it to market their drug and medical products. Dark green is also commonly associated with money.

  • Dark green is associated with ambition, greed and jealousy.
  • Yellow-green can indicate sickness, cowardice, discord and jealousy.
  • Aqua is associated with emotional healing and protection.
  • Olive green is the traditional color of peace.

Blue is the color of the sky and sea. A preferred color of corporate America, it is often associated with depth, stability and masculinity, trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence and intelligence. It has has also been used to represent expertise and precision in the high-tech industry.

  • Light blue is associated with health, healing, tranquility, understanding and softness.
  • Dark blue represents knowledge, power, integrity and seriousness.

Purple combines the stability of blue and the energy of red and is commonly associated with royalty. It symbolizes power, nobility, luxury and ambition. It conveys wealth and extravagance. Additionally, purple is associated with wisdom, dignity, independence, creativity, mystery and magic.

  • Light purple is a good choice for a feminine design. You can use bright purple when promoting children’s products and also to evoke romantic and nostalgic feelings.
  • Dark purple will often illicit feelings of gloom and sadness.

White, considered to be the color of perfection, is often used to represent light, goodness, innocence, purity, cleanliness and safety.

Additionally, in contrast to black, white usually has a positive connotation – so it can also represent a successful beginning.

In advertising, white is associated with coolness and cleanliness because it’s the color of snow. It’s versatility can be seen in its use in suggesting simplicity in high-tech products and safety in when promoting medical products. Lastly, angels are usually depicted wearing white clothes, so it’s also appropriate for charitable organizations.

Black is associated with power, elegance, formality, death, evil and mystery.

It usually has a negative connotation (blacklist, black humor, ‘black death’), but black can also denote strength, authority, elegance and prestige (black tie, black Mercedes).

While black can give the feeling of perspective and depth, a black background diminishes readability. A black suit or dress can make you look thinner. When designing for a gallery of art or photography, you can use a black or gray background to make the other colors stand out. Black contrasts well with bright colors. Combined with red or orange – other very powerful colors – the addition of black can create a very aggressive color scheme.

Color and Branding

At Chase Design, we understand that the meaning of colors are important. We always try to make sure that the colors we choose for logos and other marketing collateral have been thoroughly researched because colors really do make a difference psychologically, especially from a branding standpoint. The next time you post your selfie on Facebook, buy the latest Apple iPhone at AT&T or receive a package from UPS, check out the color scheme they have purposefully chosen to represent their identity within their respective industry.

To further illustrate how important the impact of color is in our everyday lives, perhaps author Victoria Moran said it best, “You know how we’re thinking about food these days, less in terms of carbs and calories than in terms of color, vivacity and life force? We can do the same with time. Then it’s no longer about having enough of it but about infusing color and vivacity and life force into every moment.”

ChrisChaseDesign.com I Creating Success!