Color Selection: The Meaning of Color I

Color in design is very subjective. What evokes a particular reaction in one person may evoke a very different reaction in someone else. Often this is due to personal preference, and other times due to cultural background. Color theory is a science in itself. Studying how colors affect different people, individually or as a group, is something some people take the better part of entire career to master. And there’s a lot to it.

Something as simple as changing the exact hue or saturation of a color can evoke a completely different feeling. Cultural differences mean that something that’s happy and uplifting in one country can be depressing in another.

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This is the first in a series on color theory. This information may be helpful when considering new letterhead, websites, company logos and shirts. We will discuss the meanings behind the different color families (warm, cool and neutral), and give some examples of how these colors are used (with a bit of analysis for each). The first color family. Later, we’ll talk about how hue, chroma, value, saturation, tones, tints and shades affect the way we perceive colors. The warm color theory is where we begin:
Warm Colors 

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Warm colors include red, orange, and yellow, and variations of those three colors. These are the colors of fire, of fall leaves, and of sunsets and sunrises, and are generally energizing, passionate, and positive.
Red and yellow are both primary colors, with orange falling in the middle, which means warm colors are all truly warm and aren’t created by combining a warm color with a cool color. Use warm colors in your designs to reflect passion, happiness, enthusiasm, and energy.
Red (Primary Color)
Red is a very hot color. It’s associated with fire, violence, and warfare. It’s also associated with love and passion. In history, it’s been associated with both the Devil and Cupid. Red can actually have a physical effect on people, raising blood pressure and respiration rates. It’s been shown to enhance human metabolism, too.
Red can be associated with anger, but is also associated with importance (think of the red carpet at awards shows and celebrity events). Red also indicates danger (the reason stop lights and signs are red, and that most warning labels are red).
Outside the western world, red has different associations. For example, in China, red is the color of prosperity and happiness. It can also be used to attract good luck. In other eastern cultures, red is worn by brides on their wedding days. In South Africa, however, red is the color of mourning. Red is also associated with communism. Red has become the color associated with AIDS awareness in Africa due to the popularity of the [RED] campaign.
In design, red can be a powerful accent color. It can have an overwhelming effect if it’s used too much in designs, especially in its purest form. It’s a great color to use when power or passion want to be portrayed in the design. Red can be very versatile, though, with brighter versions being more energetic and darker shades being more powerful and elegant.

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The dark shades of red in this design give a powerful and elegant feel to the site.

Orange (Secondary Color) 

Orange is a very vibrant and energetic color. In its muted forms, it can be associated with the earth and with autumn. Because of its association with the changing seasons, orange can represent change and movement in general.
Because orange is associated with the fruit of the same name, it can be associated with health and vitality. In designs, orange commands attention without being as overpowering as red. It’s often considered more friendly and inviting, and less in-your-face.

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The bright orange box draws attention to its contents, even with the other bright red elements on the page.


Yellow (Primary Color)
Yellow is often considered the brightest and most energizing of the warm colors. It’s associated with happiness and sunshine. Yellow can also be associated with deceit and cowardice (calling someone yellow infers that they may be a coward).
Yellow is also associated with hope, as can be seen in some countries when yellow ribbons are displayed by families who have loved ones at war. Yellow is also associated with danger, though not as strongly as red. Yellow has very different connotations in various countries. Take Egypt, for example, yellow is for mourning. In Japan, it represents courage, and in India it’s a color for merchants.
In western culture, a bright yellow can lend a sense of happiness and cheerfulness. Softer yellows are commonly used as a gender-neutral color for babies (rather than blue or pink) and young children. Light yellows also give a more calm feeling of happiness than bright yellows. Dark yellows and gold-hued yellows can sometimes look antique and be used in designs where a sense of permanence is desired.

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The bright yellow header and graphics used throughout this site provide a sense of energy and positivity.
The bright yellow accents bring attention to the most important parts of this site.
In brief…
While the information contained here might seem just a bit overwhelming, color theory is as much about the feeling a particular shade evokes than anything else. But here’s a quick reference guide for the common meanings of the colors discussed above:
Red: Passion, Love, Anger
Orange: Energy, Happiness, Vitality
Yellow: Happiness, Hope, Deceit

Source: Painting Pro Times, 4/13/16. Author: Cameron Chapman. Color Selection: The Meaning of Color 1