What do colors mean when it comes to design?

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What comes to mind?

What do you think of when you see the colour red? Blood, anger, fire or passion? We associate colours with particular objects such as red lipstick, chillies, a rose maybe even a planet like Mars, as well as the emotions brought to light by experiences and ideas associated with it, in this case red things.

Colour can be as universal as a symbol just like the symbol for diabetes which is a blue circle, but is frequently personal. Understanding colour as a symbol in an image helps to convey content and meaning. It can be a single colour, an overall colour pallet, or a repeating pallet and can identify a particular emotion that can trigger a memory of an event or experience.

In nature.

In animals, colours provoke a response; it is no different for people, although colour is attached to animal behaviour. Stickleback fish attack and defend their territory when they see red, peacocks use their brightly coloured tail feathers to attract mates, some males use colour to attract predators away from females and octopi use every single colour in the spectrum to blend in with their surroundings or to make them look bigger. So, in nature colour is paired with behaviour as well as with a response. People also respond to colour, but their response is subtler and is evaluated within a learned context.

What does colours’ affiliation mean?

For ages colour has been used to denote an affiliation, meaning, or significance. This tradition is clearly demonstrated by the multitudes of colours on flags of various nations as well as colours’ use on banners, in parades, and on holidays. It is important for designers to know the meaning and association of each colour.

Not all businesses/industries have a connection to the colour that they choose to display on their identity. Nothing is set in stone when it comes to colour.

Here are a few examples of how people can interpret colour and what emotion or thought it can bring to light:

Red: Excitement, energy, passion, love, desire, speed, strength, power, heat, aggression, danger, fire, blood, war, violence, all things intense and passionate.
Example: The red cross uses just that, a red cross to show passion and a helping hand.

Blue: Peace, tranquillity, cold, calm, stability, harmony, unity, trust, truth, confidence, conservatism, security, cleanliness, order, loyalty, sky, water, technology, depression, appetite suppressant.
Example: The International Diabetes Federation uses a light blue to symbolise unity and trust.

Green: Nature, environment, healthy, good luck, renewal, youth, spring, generosity, fertility, jealousy, inexperience, envy, misfortune, vigour.
Example: Animal planet has a green logo to show nature and its environment.

Yellow: Joy, happiness, betrayal, optimism, idealism, imagination, hope, sunshine, summer, gold, philosophy, dishonesty, cowardice, jealousy, covetousness, deceit, illness, hazard and friendship.Example: McDonalds has the happy M that’s yellow and the colour represent happiness.


Colour can be perceived in many ways and is unique to every individual, so think twice the next time you design or make something with colour, and think about what message you want to bring across to your target audience.