What do colors mean and represent?

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The symbolism of colors is one of the most exciting aspects of visual communication. As a designer or a digital journalist, you will make decisions on specific palettes of colors used for diverse projects. It does not matter if you work on a brand identity, a poster or a website. Color choices can and will change the meaning of whatever you create.

Text and illustration by Joanna Wróblewska

In the designers’ world color is considered one of the most important design elements. Many students struggle with understanding its real importance. They often underestimate the power of color and stay completely unaware of how to use it. Why is it essential for a designer to learn about the symbolism of colors? How does the color change the perception of a design? What do colors symbolize and how to use them consciously? The article answers these questions with the aim to help you in making conscious choices of colors in your projects.

blue purple yellow green red orange

Red
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
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
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
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.

Green
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
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.

Last but not least, you should also learn how to efficiently use white and black. The first one symbolizes light, power, elegance, death and mystery. It is strongly associated with cleanliness, purity, and safety. The second one stands for power, elegance, death, evil and mystery. It often symbolizes the fear of unknown. White can be used to promote simplicity and it is often used in modern design. Black gives a feeling of depth, but often diminishes readability.

Learn more:

What you need to know about colours

How to combine colours
The meaning of colors
Color – Meanings
What do colors symbolize?

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