You see colours in everything around you, every moment of the day: but do you ever stop to think about the impact each of those colours is having on you?
Whether it is the calming effect of blue skies and fields of green or the saliva-inducing red and yellow of your newest local Italian restaurant, each colour has a meaning and taps into emotions. There is a whole science (and art) specialising in the meanings of different colours.
As an entrepreneur or designer, it is essential to be aware of these colour meanings to help you choose your colours wisely and tap into the power of colour symbolism for your creative projects.
Colours can be a powerful tool: if you know how to use them! For a business, whether it is yours or your client’s - there are all sorts of places where colour comes into play. You might immediately think of branding elements like the logo, business cards and stationery. Colour choices will also be meaningful across online communication and marketing materials: your website, social media, emails, presentations as well as offline tools like flyers and product packaging.
Here are a few things that can have an impact on the meaning of colours:
Cultural differences - Red represents good luck in China but in South Africa it is the colour of mourning. Americans associate green with money as that is the colour of dollar bills but that is not the case globally. Black is the colour of mourning in Western countries, while in some East Asian countries it is white. In the UK green is the colour of envy, while in Germany it is yellow.
You will need to be sensitive to these differences depending on where you are designing a project.
Time - Colours may also change in significance over time: pink used to be seen as a strong, masculine colour while blue was a feminine colour used mostly for girls.
Shades and tones - A colour 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 colours. Make sure that you look at the specific associations of the different shades and tones.
For example, if you are using neon green, do not assume that just because you have 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.
Colour combinations - If you are using more than one colour you need to be aware of how colour combinations affect the overall meaning. They can enhance each other, make each other pop, blend together or fight with each other. You will need to give some thought to their combined meanings and what effect you want to achieve with your combination. Colour theory will help you understand the relationships between colours.
Know your colour meanings
Of course, it is not an exact science. People may have personal preferences that override any deeper biological tendencies, cultures vary in their interpretations and there may be other things you want to take into consideration as well.
A quick breakdown of each colour’s meaning:
White – Minimalism and Simplicity
Blue – Creativity, Calm, Trust, Intelligence, Professionalism
Red – Energy, Passion, Danger
Orange – Creativity, Youth, Enthusiasm
Yellow – Happiness, Hope, Spontaneity
Green – Nature, Growth, Harmony (also Wealth & Stability)
Brown – Wholesomeness, Warmth, Honesty
Black – Elegance, Power, Sophistication
Purple – Luxury, Mystery, Spirituality
Pink – Femininity, Playfulness, Romance
Grey – Professionalism, Formality, Conventionality
Gold/Silver/Bronze and Metallic – Wealth, Prosperity, Success
Feel free to break them too, whenever there’s room for creativity! Just make sure that you are doing it on purpose and not choosing crazy colour combinations without any consideration of what effect they might have.