Color meanings and the art of using color

Where do color meanings come from?

Millions of years of biological conditioning have created certain associations between colors and objects or emotions, while some associations may be more recent. Understanding these associations will give you a shortcut to people’s hearts, provoking a specific emotion and maybe even a behavior. Feelings are much more powerful than rational thoughts based on facts and figures and applying color meanings and color symbolism will make your branding efforts and designs much more effective.

Color meanings stem from psychological effects, biological conditioning and cultural developments. Some color meanings are deeply rooted in our brains because they’re visible all around us, like red as the color of fire being associated with warmth or green with nature. We’re biologically wired to pay attention to bright colors because brightly colored animals or plants are often poisonous. We’re drawn to red fruit over green fruit because the color indicates ripeness and sweetness.

What do colors symbolize?


Red is the color of fire and blood. It is associated with excitement, energy, passion and sexuality. It can symbolize desire, power, speed and strength. On the other hand, it stands for aggression, danger, violence and war. Many of us consider red as a color of love, but in fact it is more related to the excitement of falling in love and awaking passion for the other person. Red is also a color of Christmas, bringing joy, warmth and safety. Moreover, it is widely used in flags and signs as it is associated with pride.

Red is intense and it steals attention from other colors. It provokes emotions and calls to action or becomes a warning. Remember that red will will most likely bring pieces of text or images to the foreground.


Yellow is a color associated with sun. It symbolizes optimism, energy, joy, happiness and friendship. It might also stand for intellect. On the contrary, yellow can indicate jealousy, betrayal, illness and danger. It is strongly associated with food, often evoking cheerful feelings.

When advertising long-lasting goods, yellow will not be the best choice. It is a very unstable and spontaneous color. Men often consider it as “childish”, so any products such as cars, watches or smartphones should not be advertised with yellow. Too much of yellow in a design can be truly overwhelming. At the same time, yellow in a combination with black will create a high contrast and indicate possible danger.


Orange is a secondary color that combines two primary colors: red and yellow. It stands for energy, happiness and the joy of live. Moreover, it is associated with great enthusiasm, encouragement, determination and stimulation. It is a color of creativity!

Orange gives a strong sensation of heat, but it does not have the aggressiveness of red. It stimulates appetite and is widely used in the healthy foods industry. Orange can be highly effective in promoting toys as well.


Blue is cool and calming primary color that stands for intelligence, openness, spirituality and creativity. Blue is popular among large concerns, hospitals and airlines, since it symbolizes wisdom, trust, loyalty and strength. It is relaxing and prevents from chaos.

Using blue will help you to promote products related to cleanliness, air and sky, water and sea, and consciousness development. Stereotypically, blue is considered as a masculine color, so many male toddlers will wear blueish clothing and play with blue toys. Remember that food should not be advertised with the use of blue, since it lowers the appetite. On the other hand, blue can make a huge impact when combined with warm colors like red and yellow.


In general, green is the color of nature and environment that combines the power of blue and yellow. It is associated with growth, health, renewal, youth, harmony, freshness and fertility. On the other hand, it can symbolize safety in a metaphorical and physical way. For some people, it is strongly associated with money.

Green is the most restful color for our eyes. It is widely used to advertise healthy foods, drugs, medical services and environmental organizations all over the world. Dark green products may seem more traditional and classic, while light green goods are seen as more trendy and modern.


Purple has the stability of blue and the energy of red, two primary colors. It is associated with royalty, nobility, ceremony, mystery, transgression and spirituality. It also symbolizes both wisdom and enlightenment, it is a strong indicator of imagination.

Children prefer purple over other colors, although it is considered as a bit artificial. In fact, it is pretty rare in nature. Purple will be a good choice when promoting feminine products, goods associated to rest and sleep or toys for kids. Purple is magical and unique, so it is recommended not to overuse it.


is for femininity, playfulness and romance In modern times, it’s impossible to see pink and not think of little girls, cotton candy and brightly colored bubble gum. Pink represents femininity and romance, sensitivity and tenderness. It’s inherently sweet, cute and charming.

Together with brown, pink is among the least common colors in logos. Typical uses of bright pink include Barbie and Cosmopolitan, with their obvious target markets, and Baskin Robbins and Dunkin’ Donuts who are tapping into the ‘sweet’ side of the color. Wedding companies and other feminine brands often favor a lighter pink. Using pink is a quick shortcut to communicating “this is for women” and if you know it’ll appeal to your female target market, then it’s a great choice.

▪️Brown .

is for wholesomeness, warmth and honesty Brown is a natural color, associated with the earth and as a result giving a sense of stability and support. Given its link to the earth and nature, brown brings to mind farming and agriculture and other outdoorsy activities. It’s warm and friendly, practical and dependable, and can also represent the old fashioned and well established.

Brown is not used that often in logos. When it is, it tends to represent utility.

Brown is a warm, neutral color that you can use as a background that conveys warmth and wholesomeness. Use it for an earthy brand and in a natural pairing with green to really capture that organic feel. You can also use brown to give the impression of a well-established heritage and a sense of tradition. Brown works well for chocolate brands, for obvious reasons.

▪️Black .

is for elegance, power and sophistication Black is an incredibly versatile color and probably the most used color in graphic design. When it comes to branding and marketing, black is generally associated with exclusivity, power and elegance. It’s bold, powerful and a little mysterious, which makes it a firm favorite of modern brands. Depending on the design context, it can be used to create a cool and unapproachable look as well. At the same time, it’s an inherently neutral color that works well in combination with any other color and is often used for typography and other central, grounding design elements.

If you want to convey a sense of luxury, you can’t go wrong with a simple black-and-white color scheme. Combined with a gold, silver or why not a royal purple, you’ll give your brand an air of exclusivity and prestige. On the other hand, black can also be used with bright colors for contrast and when combined with other powerful colors like red or orange it can be extremely impactful and thrilling.


If you know your science, then you’ll know that white light actually contains all the colors of the rainbow—but to the naked eye at least, white is the opposite: it’s the absence of any color. In Western cultures it’s often associated with virginity (think of brides wearing white on their wedding day as a symbol of purity), while in some East Asian countries it’s the color of mourning. When used in design and branding, white creates a minimalist aesthetic. It can be very simple, clean and modern. It’s also the most neutral color of all and can be quite non-descript as a base for other, more exciting, colors.

White space can be as important in a design as all the other creative elements. White tends to be the color used for website backgrounds as it ensures that your text is easy to read. It’s also often used as a secondary accent in a color scheme. Together with pastels, it can bring to mind spring and femininity; combined with simple black it becomes classic and minimalistic. When it comes to white, it’s a lot about the colors you put it with.


Gray is a more mature, responsible color, associated with the gray hair of old age. Its positive connotations include formality and dependability, while the negative side can mean being overly conservative, conventional and lacking in emotion. It’s safe and quite subdued, serious and reserved.

Use gray if you have a serious brand and you want to communicate the authority and stability of a corporate institution. Combine it with blue for the ultimate in conservatism and dependability. It’s actually also a very popular color in web design. You may want to consider using gray as an alternative to white for a softer website background—or as an alternative to black text for a less harsh contrast and an easier read.


is for fun, diversity and optimism We’ve looked at the meanings of individual colors. So what happens when you bring them all together? What feelings are evoked with multicolored designs? Well, while monochromatic branding can bring focus and style, colorful branding can show that a brand is playful, informal and creative.

Using many colors in your branding and designs can be a great way to stand out, show your playfulness and appeal to children or a more creative audience. Think about whether you want to use complementary colors to provide a real ‘pop’ (colors that are opposites on the color wheel, for example, purple and orange), analogous colors for greater harmony (colors that sit next to each other, for example, red, orange and yellow) or triadic colors for a more dynamic effect (colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel).

▪️Gold, silver, bronze and other metallics.

are for wealth, prosperity and success Gold and silver are both precious metals, associated with riches and expensive jewelry. Often combined with black, adding a touch of glimmering metal can immediately give a brand that element of glamor. Gold is also the color of a winner, associated as it is with the medal for first place, and can represent success. It’s a warm color related to yellow and as a result shares the attributes of feeling bright and cheerful. Silver is cooler and a little less luxurious, coming in at second place but still representing grace and elegance. Third-place bronze captures the qualities of brown and so it’s more earthy, natural and mature.

A few things that can have an impact on the meaning of colors.

Here are a few things that can have an impact on the meaning of colors:

▪️Cultural differences—

Red represents good luck in China but in South Africa it’s the color of mourning. Americans associate green with money as that’s the color of dollar bills but that isn’t the case globally. Black is the color of mourning in Western countries, while in some East Asian countries it’s white. In the US green is the color of envy, while in Germany it’s yellow. You’ll need to be sensitive to these differences depending on where you are operating.


Colors may also change in significance over time: red used to be seen as a strong, masculine color while blue was a feminine color suited for girls.

▪️Shades and tones—

A color may have a general meaning, but lighter shades can vary dramatically compared to darker shades, while more natural, muted shades will differ from artificial neon colors. Make sure that you look at the specific associations of the different shades and tones. For example, if you’re using neon green, don’t assume that just because you’ve chosen a shade of green it’s going to be a good fit for an eco-friendly brand. Similarly, a bright magenta will have a totally different meaning from a muted pastel shade of rosé, even if they are both shades of pink.

▪️Color combinations—

If you’re using more than one color you need to be aware of how color combinations affect the overall meaning. They can enhance each other, make each other pop, blend together or fight with each other. You’ll need to give some thought to their combined meanings and what effect you want to achieve with your combination. Color theory will help you understand the relationships between colors.


What do colors mean and represent?/

Color meanings and the art of using color symbolism/

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