Where do color meanings come from? Millions of years of biological conditioning have produced certain links between colors and objects or emotions, while some links may be more recent. Understanding these associations will give you a passage to people’s emotions, provoking a specific feeling, and maybe even a behavior. Color meanings range from psychological effects, biological conditioning to cultural developments. Some of these meanings are rooted in our brains because they’re all around us, like red, as the color of fire is associated with warmth or green with nature. We’re biologically wired to notice bright colors since brightly colored animals or plants are often poisonous. We’re attracted by red fruit over green fruit because the color indicates ripeness and sweetness.
Other colors have built cultural meaning over time, and their purposes have been accepted by society, such as pink as a color tone for girls and blue for boys in Western cultures.
Here are a couple of things that can have an influence on the meanings of colors:
- Cultural differences—Red portrays good luck in China, but in South Africa, it’s the color of sadness and mourning. Americans connect green with money as that’s the color of dollar bills, but that isn’t the case worldwide. Black is the tone of sadness and mourning in Western countries, while in some East Asian countries, it’s white. In the US, green is recognized as the color of envy, while in Germany, the yellow is. You’ll need to be sensitive to these details, depending on where you are operating.
- Time—Colors can also alter in meaning over time: red used to be seen as a robust and masculine tone while blue was a feminine color suited for girls.
- Shades and tones—A color may have a universal meanings, but lighter shades can vary noticeably compared to darker shades. In contrast, more natural, muted shades will diverge from artificial neon color tones. You need to be sure that you look at the specific affiliations of the different color shades and hues. For example, if you’re using neon green tone, don’t assume that just because you’ve chosen a type of green, it’s going to be a good fit for an eco-friendly brand. In the same way, a bright magenta will have a completely different connotation from a muted shade of rosé color, even if they are both shades of pink.
- Color combinations—If you’re combining colors, you need to be aware of how different combinations influence the overall meaning. They can improve each other, make each other pop, blend or fight with each other. You’ll need to think about their combined implications and what effect you want to accomplish with your combination.
The meanings of colors
What red means:
Since red tone is the color of fire and blood, it is linked with energy, war, danger, strength, power, bravery as well as passion, desire, and love.
Red is considered a very emotionally intense color. It is responsible for enhancing human metabolism, increasing respiration rate, and raising blood pressure. It is highly visible, which is the reason why stop signs, stoplights, and fire equipment are usually painted red. In heraldry, red is used to point to courage. It is a color that is used in many national flags.
What orange means:
As a secondary color, orange represents the combination of the warmth and heat of red with the playfulness and joy of yellow. It attracts interest without being as daring as red and is part of warning signs like traffic cones and high-visibility clothing. It’s considered as an energetic color that can bring to mind health and vitality, given its visible link to oranges and vitamin C. It’s the color of youth as well, bringing an element of vibrancy and fun.
What yellow means:
Yellow is recognized as the color of the sun, smiley faces, and sunflowers. It’s a bright, youthful color, tone of hope, and a positive attitude. It’s another color that gets your attention, and for that reason can also be used to signify caution, like red and orange.
What green means:
Green is generally connected with nature, linked as it is to grass, plants, and trees. It also symbolizes growth and renewal, since it is the color of spring and rebirth. An additional association is “getting the green light” to go ahead, giving it and connection with taking action. In the US, green (and dark green) is also connected with money and so symbolizes prosperity and stability.
What blue means:
Blue is viewed as a relaxed and calming tone that symbolizes intelligence and responsibility. Blue is refreshing and relaxing. Light baby blue is peaceful, whereas dark blue can indicate depth and power. It is the trendiest color in the world, equally when it comes to personal preferences (for both genders) and usage in business logos.
What purple means:
Purple is an exciting color due to the fact that it is both warm and cold and incorporates the passion and energy of red with the calm and serenity of blue. Since its links with royalty, purple is naturally prestigious and luxurious. Purple dye was always expensive, which meant that only wealthy aristocracy could afford it. These higher classes and kings and queens of old would use purple and Queen Elizabeth I even forbade anyone outside of the royal house from wearing it. Purple is also connected with religion and spirituality since the ancient kings were thought of as ancestors of the gods, and the color holds a special meaning in rituals, including Catholicism, Judaism, and Buddhism.
What pink color means:
In modern times, it’s impossible to talk about pink and not think of little girls, cotton candy, and brightly colored bubble gum. Pink symbolizes femininity and romance, sensitivity, and tenderness. It is considered as inherently sweet, cute, and charming.
What brown means:
Brown is a natural color related to the earth and, as a result giving an impression of stability and support. Given its connection to the ground, brown brings to mind farming and agriculture and other outdoorsy activities. It’s considered as warm and friendly, practical and dependable, and can also symbolize the old fashioned and well established.
What black means:
Although black can have negative connotations—it’s the symbol of death, fear, and grief—it’s more generally associated with power and elegance. It’s bold, powerful, and maybe a mysterious, and it can be intimidating and distant as well. At the same time, it’s a naturally neutral color and is often used for typography and other functional types of elements.
What white color means:
If you know your science correctly, then you’ll know that white light actually is made of all the colors of the rainbow, but to the naked eye, at least, white is the opposite: it’s the absence of any color. White symbolizes purity and innocence and creates a minimalist aesthetic. It can be straightforward, clean, and modern. Moreover, it is the most neutral color of all and can be quite non-descript as a base for other, more exciting colors.
What gray means:
Gray is considered as a more mature, responsible color, linked with the gray hair of old age. Its positive connotations contain formality and dependability, while the wrong side can mean being too conservative, maybe conventional, and missing an emotion. It’s safe and perhaps subdued, dangerous, and reserved.