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Colour Meanings in Design: Impact and Symbolism Revealed

Post by
William Griffiths
Colour Meanings in Design: Impact and Symbolism Revealed

Colour Meanings in Design: Impact and Symbolism Revealed

If there’s one thing we’re taught to learn and recognise from an early age, it's colours. From their appearance to their names and beyond, youngsters across the globe learn about colours from the word go. As it turns out, the importance of this structure doesn’t diminish as you grow older — and you could make the argument that it actually gets more important.

In the wonderful world of graphic design, colour meanings have been discussed, picked apart and examined for a long time. While some may put certain decisions down to one image looking prettier than the other, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that there’s a lot more to it than that. It can come down to symbolism, theming, or the levels that people will go to in order to draw in their target audience.

Today, we want to peel back the curtain and really take a deep dive into the psychology behind this. Many of you reading this piece will probably have a basic understanding of what different colours can mean to different people, but it can never hurt to keep such critical commercial information at the forefront of our minds.

So buckle up as we take a spin around the colour wheel.

Where do colour meanings come from?

The meaning behind colours can come from a whole range of places, and it really depends on who you talk to. It can be as deep as religion and your emotional state of mind, or it can be as simple as wanting to make a marketing statement. It’s all about the environment you’re in, and culturally, it can come down to the geography of where you happen to be in the world.

From one decade to another, a colour could become drastically different depending on what the mood is like within society or a certain trend. Alongside that, if a brand or company opts to blend two colours together, that unity can signify something that we’ve never seen before. These are the fundamentals of colour theory, and while it may seem basic to some, we actually think it’s quite remarkable to study.

We’ve entered an age in which the attention span of the masses has dropped significantly, or at least, that’s how it seems. When you put some real weight or meaning behind colours, it can open the door up for so many intricate and meaningful conversations about life, storytelling, and so much more. In our view, you can’t put a price on that.

Warm vs. cold colours

One of the most basic meanings behind certain colours comes from the ‘warm vs cold’ debate. It’s a pretty simple idea, on the face of it, with the premise being that some colours give off a warmer vibe, with others having the opposite effect. It’s quite an interesting concept when you really think about it, especially for those who have only ever viewed colours in a way that observes them as being visually stimulating and nothing more.

Firstly, it’s important to note that if you have a lighter shade of a mainstream colour, then it’s likely going to be seen as being a bit warmer. With that being said, we’d argue that the primary warm colours are red, orange, yellow and a lighter shade of green, with a heavier pink coming into the fold when thinking about weather patterns.

Cool colours, for our money, are slightly different. This is where we open up the door to the blues, dark blues, dark greens and purples, and to be honest, we’re feeling a bit chilly just writing that. A lot of the rhetoric comes down to what we historically deem to be temperature-based assessments which, in many ways, still holds up to this day.

A guide to different colour meanings

For the core part of this piece, we want to really explore what some of these colours mean and how they are best utilised. For years and years, we’ve seen them used in a plethora of different ways, and it’s important to cut through the meat of why that’s the case. In this instance, we’ve decided to list out eleven different colours that we believe are at the heart of what we’re trying to discuss here.

They’ve all got positive ways in which they can be used, and they can all be looked upon in a negative light, depending on your own personal preference. We aren’t going to suggest which is best to use in a general sense because that wouldn’t be logical - instead, we’re going to highlight the standard meanings they are often associated with.

Red

Red is a colour that can emit so many different emotions out of us, largely because it’s just so intense. It is used in everything from politics to TV shows and beyond, and we really are just scraping the surface with that definition. It is an extreme colour that can highlight love, seduction, violence, danger and, perhaps most notably, anger.

The colour of blood is red, or a dark red, which can give off associations to war and quite brutal displays of combat. However, it can also bring forward strength and power. They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and with a colour as divisive as this one, it really does come down to whether or not you’re a ‘glass half full’ kind of cat.

Blue

When we think of the colour blue, the first thing that comes to mind is peace. That can be within the peace of the ocean and how tranquil it can be, or the sky on a bright day. It’s all about feeling secure in yourself, and if you are dealing with the ‘royal blue’ variation of this colour, we also think there’s a strong case to be made that this gives off the feeling of leadership.

Of course, there are always negatives to run alongside the positives, which is why the act of depression can come into the equation with the colour blue quite often - and if you don’t believe us, go and watch Inside Out. Still, it’s hard not to feel an overwhelming sense of calm when gazing at a blue image, and there’s a trust that comes with that.

Green

There are two sides to the coin with so many different colours, and you’d best believe the same is true for our friend green. From an ecological point of view, the environment is the first thought that springs to mind. It’s all about nature and how we preserve it, whether it be from the countryside trees to the green grass that we run our hands through on a lovely summer day.

Alas, it can’t all be sunshine and rainbows, with envy also being an important emotion to recognise. It’s not uncommon to hear someone say that they are ‘green with envy’ as their blood boils, with a lot of cartoons also using green to display the feeling of being sick or jealous. Even with that being the case, though, we’d argue this is quite an exuberant colour across all of its variants.

Yellow

What’s that in the sky? It’s the sun. It’s the bright, beautiful sun and all of the joy and happiness that comes along with it. The colour yellow is stereotypically known for being very positive, inspiring creativity and optimism among all. At the same time, there are plenty of warning signs to go alongside it, and we mean that in the most literal manner imaginable.

Over the years, hazard signs have been printed in yellow to really help them stand out, alongside reflective jackets that aim to keep citizens safe. It’s also not unheard of for yellow to be seen as something that represents being quite ill or unwell, but when it so closely resembles gold, it can be easy to overlook the more pessimistic symbols.

Orange

While we’ve already touched on the complex nature of the sun, the orange glow that comes from a sunset is what really gets us up in the morning. There’s a warmth and comfort here that very few other colours can give off, and perhaps one of the best sensations is when summer drifts into those autumn nights and orange fills the sky on a daily basis.

It’s vibrant, it’s energetic, and it’s a colour that encourages caution. When you consider the role that orange has to play between red and green, especially in traffic, it becomes clear that this is the sign you see when it’s time to take a breath and reconsider your options. There are warning signs, but it never steps over into being too intimidating.

Purple

If there were a colour that encapsulates the feeling of being mystical or magical, we’d say that purple fits the bill quite nicely. It’s complicated, too, because that also stretches up the chain of command all the way to the top. What we mean by that is royalty, which purple often signifies, alongside a spiritual emotion that brings both grandeur and mystery together as one.

It’s almost as if purple is the sexier step-sister of blue, and even though that may sound utterly ridiculous, we think there’s some logic behind it. The colour purple is arrogant in how expansive and multi-layered it is, and if you’ve got a product that is using it in the right way, you’re going to see it flying off of the shelves in no time at all.

Pink

Pretty in pink. If you’ve been paying attention to the movies this past summer, then you’ll know firsthand what the colour pink can do. While it was once put down as quite a ‘girly’ colour, most people in society have come to learn and understand that there’s so much more behind it than that. In terms of pure joy, we’d say pink is the most vibrant and loveable colour there is.

Because that’s what it comes down to: love. It’s the purest romance, it’s the perfect flower, it’s the tender kiss. Pink symbolises all of the good in the world and none of the evil, which is why it’s so intriguing to see it used in that way sometimes within pop culture. It isn’t always going to fit the brief, but when it’s used successfully, there are few better options on the market.

Brown

Earth is a wonderful planet for so many reasons, and that’s what we think of when taking a look at the colour brown. It’s the hard–working, gritty definition of what it means to embrace the soil and ground around us for everything it is worth. It gives off the feeling of stability and an attitude of perseverance, even in the face of great adversity.

It’s simple in what it brings to the table, but maybe that’s why we like it so much. You have to be tough and durable if you’re going to stomach it, and that’s why we’re so fond of it when it is used properly. It can be dismissed as a dirty colour or one that isn’t quite as visually pleasing as some of its competitors, but that doesn’t bother us one bit, largely because it isn’t true. This, right here, is an underdog colour.

Grey

When you take a look at high-profile companies in finance or other ‘money-making’ sectors, the colour grey (or silver if you want to be more specific) gives off an essence of class. There is an intelligence behind this colour and with that comes many, many years of experience, which runs perfectly alongside old age - which is where the colour grey really comes into its own.

You could suggest that grey is a bit boring, but it all comes down to how you use it. In our view, we actually think it’s a bold colour to use or wear because of how negative the connotations are behind it. It’s all about finding that maturity within yourself and ensuring that you don’t allow that energy to become tainted by public opinion.

Black

In Western culture, it can be quite easy to look at black as the symbol of death and mourning, and we can completely understand the logic behind it. After all, the majority of funerals don this colour for a reason. In equal measure, we believe there is a sophistication to this colour, especially when you think about just how many facets of society feature it heavily.

There is a formality behind the colour black that you just don’t get with many of its comrades, and that adds a professional touch that is hard to acquire. Yes, there’s still some uncertainty behind how ‘anonymous’ this colour can feel, and it might also feel like austerity is being thrust upon you, but we really like how much it stands on its own as an outcast of sorts.

White

White is a colour that is pure, daring and majestic, all at the same time. We think of the clouds above us, the notion of a positive afterlife and the simplicity it displays. It’s also quite an innocent colour, too, which is why we think it takes a special kind of daredevil to wear a pair of white trousers out to dinner. Yes, it’s a strange example, but you get the point.

When the first snow of the year falls, the landscape of the great outdoors turns entirely white, as if we’re in a wonderland just waiting for winter to come. The spirit of both the young and the old is here for us all to see, and as the beautiful bride or groom walks down the aisle, the colour white represents the beginning of a new chapter.

Final thoughts

While we may have concluded our fun walk through the rainbow, there are still plenty of different ways in which the use of colour can be interpreted in the modern world - and that’s especially true when you go down the rabbit hole of graphic design. In the current age, design is as relevant as it has ever been, and the use of colours is just as critical as it was when we first came out of the black-and-white era.

Here at Hatchly, we aim to assist our customers in just about every way we know how. We understand that it can be a minefield out there, and when you’re attempting to grow and improve your business, there are often hurdles that can get in the way. Our goal is to remove those hurdles and create a working relationship that’ll benefit you for many years to come.

With our unlimited graphic design service, we can provide our input for whatever it is you require. From a committed team of professionals to the best communication imaginable, we’ll leave no stone unturned.

So, as you contemplate the next step in your company’s journey, why not take a look at our website and see what you think? If you want to learn more about our process, feel free to get in touch!

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