Understanding colors and their implications is a powerful tool not only for designers, but for anyone who wants to apply them in the best possible way: in a company’s visual identity, in decorations, and even to help bring specific feelings into their lives.
It is very personal to choose your favorite color, but there is a whole science behind the feeling we get when we see a color. Knowing the effect a color has is the key to creating a design that is beyond impactful!
The meaning of colors can be explained by psychological effects, biological conditions, and also cultural issues. You can see this because all the time we associate elements with colors, like fire with red, nature with green. They can even save our skin, as when, for example, we link vibrant colors to attention, because animals or plants with vibrant colors are often poisonous. So come with us to list here some pertinent factors for establishing these meanings:
We know that each culture has its own perception of colors, using them in different ways, depending on the occasion or the feeling you want to convey. For example, in the West, white is closely associated with weddings, purity, and peace, while in some East Asian countries, it is associated with mourning. Red, on the other hand, can mean luck in China and mourning in South Africa. That is why it is very important to pay attention to these details!
The meaning of a color can change over time. Blue, which nowadays is seen as a color for men (however debatable that may be, right?), was once considered feminine, while red was the most masculine color. By the way, bonus information about temporal changes: high heels were worn by men in the past. Did you know that?
The simple act of changing the tone or saturation of a color can be responsible for creating a completely different feeling. A lighter shade can gain a new interpretation over a darker shade of the same color. This will be best exemplified in the individual analysis of each color!
That is the challenge. When you put one color next to another, you can enhance the meaning of one or the other, or even create something completely new! The possibilities are endless, but it is necessary to take into consideration what your goal is and what effect you want to achieve.
There is a fundamental separation in our interpretation of color: warm tones and cool tones. Warm tones are associated with passion, warmth, energy, and enthusiasm. The cooler tones, on the other hand, are related to nature, calm, relaxation, and professionalism.
With this context outlined, let’s see it in practice? Here is an explanation by color (according to our Western understanding):
This primary color is always connected with strong emotions. It can be associated with both love and anger. This is so true that we can see red in images of cupids, but also in figures such as the devil. It is the color that causes desire and passion, and is also used for attention, such as the red traffic light or package labels that indicate danger. It is so intense that it can have the physical effect of raising blood pressure and even altering breathing! Red is even recognized to provoke hunger, hence its use in restaurants and food brands. Several logos came to your mind, didn’t they? One must, however, be careful: because it is strong, if used too much, it can become exaggerated. It is also good to remember the difference in tones: lighter reds bring more energy, while darker tones are related to power and elegance.
One of the three primary colors, yellow represents energy, optimism, and confidence. It activates the creative side of the brain, expressing happiness and positivity. Like red, it is also associated with hunger (remember McDonald’s M? It is an example of yellow used in restaurants – red is also linked to this brand). If your idea is to pass on fun and even low cost, yellow may be your perfect choice. As for the shades, the brighter one is used to attract attention and accent, and is most related to animation, the pale one can have to do with nature and health and is still a neutral option for babies and young children. The lighter yellow is the variation that brings the feeling of calmness, while the darker one expresses antiquity. Neon yellow can sometimes look more artificial.
It is the mixture of red and yellow, combining the passion and warmth of red with the joy of yellow. It represents courage and enthusiasm. It brings the feelings of optimism, creativity, happiness, and youth. It also expresses freedom. By association with fruit, it can still be linked to health and vitality. In a more subdued tone, it refers to autumn, the season that makes everything orange! It is even an alternative to red, when the intention is to opt for a warm tone, but one that is more playful and not so strong.
It is the combination of red and white, creating a color that expresses femininity, sensitivity, love, and tranquility. It adds sweetness and charm. Therefore, pink is usually present in products intended for women, for children, as well as in the beauty and fashion industry. But be careful not to fall into the cliché of always linking femininity with pink! It is also interesting to use it in surprising ways, to add a surprise element to the design.
The last of the primary colors, blue is best known for causing serenity, peace and calm. It is strongly linked to loyalty, responsibility, and intelligence. It can also be associated with sadness. Unlike warm tones, blue tends to take away the appetite, and is therefore not often used in the food business. If your idea is to convey professionalism, blue is a great alternative! Both the technology and health care industries make heavy use of this color. It is the perfect color for meditation and relaxation. Light blues are more friendly and create a greater sense of calm, while dark shades convey a strong and confident appearance.
Composed by the junction of blue and yellow, it is impossible not to connect green with nature! Because of this almost automatic association, it is related to health, life, growth, and balance. Because it is the color of money in some countries, it is also associated with wealth. The bright shades are more vibrant and tend to bring that extra energy, while the dark shades have a look of abundance. Olive green is very closely linked to nature, and neon green, as with neon yellow, can give that artificial feeling.
Blue and red together create this mysterious and very spiritual color. In former times, it was a color often worn by royalty, and is therefore, to this day, linked to lust. Purple is also associated with creativity, giving an air of inspiration and imagination. As it has all this spirituality, we can see this color associated with various religions, such as Catholicism, Judaism, and Buddhism. You can combine it with gold if you want to abuse the luxury! With green, you get a nice contrast, and with pink, you can also reinforce femininity. Ah, the dark tones will help you create a greater association with mysticism and lust, while the lighter shades (like lavender and lilac) are perfect for a romantic look!
We enter the world of neutral colors, and the first one we will look at is this color that is a warm neutral. Brown reminds us of earth and wood, so it gives us a sense of naturalness, simplicity, and comfort. It is also related to tradition, as something old-fashioned – you know that antique furniture look? If you are looking for a neutral design, but don’t want to give up a little warmth, go for brown! It can be used as a background, and the dark tone is an alternative as a substitute for black. It has more strength when combined with other colors: with green, for example, you can reinforce the natural and organic look.
It is the neutral color known for being cool, practical and conservative. Gray brings professionalism, commitment, and maturity. It can help give an air of modernity too! Because it is neutral, there are many options on how to combine it with other colors, and it often plays a secondary role, acting as a base. If you combine it with blue, for example, it will enhance the professional look. It looks super interesting in place of white as a background, or in a darker tone, replacing black to diminish the contrast a bit. Thinking about combinations with gray, Pantone even decided that 2021 would have gray with yellow as its main colors!
The absence of colors. Mysterious and versatile, black reveals a sophisticated, sexy, and strong atmosphere. It is associated with power, control, elegance, and exclusivity. It can also be intimidating. It is often used with other colors, serving as a contrast to make them stand out more. Its purpose is to intensify the idea of prestige and power? Then combine it with gold, silver, or even purple. With colors such as red or orange, you will achieve a very striking result. Black can take on many faces – it all depends on the combinations you make. Even because we know that it is not basic at all!
The opposite of black – is the combination of all colors. Minimalism and simplicity, peace and purity. White has all these meanings, but as we have already told you, this can vary from culture to culture. It is also associated with goodness and health. It is a color that, although classic, can modernize a design. The most neutral of the colors, it works as a base, staying in the background, which is why it is often used in backgrounds. There is no limit to the possibilities of combinations! White goes well with any color. With pastel tones, for example, it adopts a femininity.
With black, it is considered a minimalist and classic look, but it is important to reflect on the cultural issue behind this combination: be careful not to make a contrast between the colors by placing white as something positive, and black as negative
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Beige and Cream
These colors mix the warmth of brown and the coolness of white. In beige, we can better perceive this warmth, while in cream, there is a greater resemblance to white. The two usually pick up characteristics of the colors they are being combined with, so on their own they usually don’t have as much impact. A very interesting use is when you want to brighten up darker colors, without resorting to white, which causes a stronger contrast.
The main ones are gold, silver and bronze. Gold is the color of victory, success, and glamour. Silver has a cooler footprint, but also represents elegance. Bronze, on the other hand, because of its similarity to brown, is associated with nature and maturity. Combined with black, the effect of elegance and glamour is intensified. The downside of these colors is that they are difficult to reproduce in the virtual world, because they work best materialized, with texture. To try to recreate them online, you can use shading and lighting.
This one is for you who think that the more, the better! Using various colors brings a sense of creativity and fun, making the project stand out. Complementary colors, which are those opposite on the color wheel (red and green, for example!), help give a “wow” element to the composition; analogous colors, i.e. those that are together on the color wheel (blue and green, for example!), cause greater harmony. There are also color triads, which work like this: you choose a color and jump three colors on the wheel, leading to the next color, and then do the same, reaching the last color, which forms a triangle (red, yellow and blue are examples of color triads) – these have a more dynamic effect.