Colours are everywhere around us, from the clothes we wear to the advertisements we see. They are an integral part of our lives and have the power to evoke strong emotions and influence our behaviour.
Understanding the psychology of colours can help us make better decisions in many aspects of our lives. In this blog, I'll explore the meanings behind different colours and their significance in various cultures.
The cultural significance of colours
Colours have different cultural significance across various countries and regions. Understanding the cultural associations of colours in tradition is crucial to interpreting literature, art, and popular culture. For example, in Western cultures, white is often associated with weddings and purity, while in many Asian cultures, white represents mourning and death. In India, the colour red is associated with good luck and prosperity, while in many Western cultures, it is associated with danger and warning.
Warm Colours: Red, Orange, and Yellow
These are the colours of fire, of fall leaves, and of sunsets and sunrises, and are generally energising, passionate, and positive. Use warm colours in your designs to reflect passion, happiness, enthusiasm, and energy.
Red: Passion and Energy
A striking, bold, and captivating hue, red is perhaps the most dominant of colours. Often seen while navigating the roads, red lets us know when caution is warranted. Far more than a cautionary signal, red is also synonymous with passion. When love is in the air, so too is the colour red. When worn on the lips, it becomes even more appealing and eye-catching. To strike a balance between sexy and feminine, red never misses the mark.
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 warning labels are often red).
Red has a long and complex history in English culture. In ancient times, it was is often associated with associated with blood and sacrifice and later became associated with royalty and power. Outside the western world, red has different associations. For example, in China, red is the colour 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 colour of mourning. Red is also associated with communism.
In art, red can be a powerful accent colour. Red can be very versatile, though, with brighter versions being more energetic and darker shades being more powerful and elegant.
Light red symbolises joy, sexuality, passion, sensitivity and love.
Pink signals romance, love and friendship. In addition, it highlights the female qualities and encourages passivity.
Dark red is associated with energy, willpower, rage, anger, leadership, courage, longing and evil.
Reddish brown, marron is associated with harvest and autumn, and the brownish colour highlights the masculine qualities.
Orange: Creativity and Enthusiasm
Orange is a warm and energetic colour that evokes feelings. In its muted forms it can be associated with the earth and with autumn, changing seasons, orange can represent change and movement in general. With its fiery undertones, the colour orange is often depicted in scenes where fire and sun are present. The deeper the shade, the more intense the setting.
Colour psychology teaches us that seeing the colour orange can ignite motivation, hope, and positivity. Given its ecstatic spirit, it’s no wonder orange helps us look on the bright side. Orange is also strongly associated with creativity.
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. It is often used in marketing to represent affordability and good value.
Dark orange can mean deceit and lack of confidence.
Red-orange corresponds to desire, pleasure, domination, aggression and a need for something to happen.
Golden orange gives the feeling of prestige. The meaning of the colour gold is wealth and wisdom and it often symbolises something of high quality.
Yellow: Happiness and Optimism
Yellow is a bright and cheerful colour that is associated with happiness, optimism, and warmth. The colour stimulates the left side of the brain, which promotes logical thinking. It encourages us to hone in and make informed decisions. Best of all, this sunny tone bolsters self-assurance. As an upbeat and cheerful hue, yellow is inherently optimistic and hope - as can be seen in some countries when yellow ribbons are displayed by families who have loved ones at war.
Yellow has a complicated history in English culture, with both positive and negative associations. It has been associated with cowardice and betrayal, as well as with happiness and joy. In some countries, yellow has very different connotations. In Egypt, for example, yellow is for mourning. In Japan, it represents courage and in India it’s a colour for merchants.
In your art, 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.
Cool Colours: Green, Blue, and Purple
They are the colours of night, of water, of nature, and are usually calming, relaxing, and somewhat reserved. Blue is the only primary colour within the cool spectrum, which means the other colours are created by combining blue with a warm colour (yellow for green and red for purple). Because of this, green takes on some of the attributes of yellow, and purple takes on some of the attributes of red.
Green: Growth and Renewal
Green is a calming and refreshing colour that represents growth, renewal, and nature. It can represent new beginnings and growth, so is often used in marketing to represent health, wellness, and eco-friendliness. Alternatively, green can also represent envy or jealousy, and a lack of experience.
It has a long history of being associated with fertility and rebirth, and was once a symbol of the goddess Venus. In modern times, green is commonly associated with environmentalism and sustainability.
It’s appropriate for designs related to wealth, stability, renewal, and nature. Brighter greens are more energising and vibrant, while olive greens are more representative of the natural world. Dark greens are the most stable and representative of affluence.
Blue: Trust and Stability
Blue is a cool and calming colour that is often associated with trust, stability, and reliability.
It has a long history of being associated with the sea and the sky. Blue is also associated with peace and has spiritual and religious connotations in many cultures and traditions
Today, blue is commonly associated with technology and innovation. In marketing, blue is often used to represent professionalism and trustworthiness.
Light blues can be refreshing and friendly. Dark blues are more strong and reliable.
Purple: Royalty and Luxury
Purple is a combination of red and blue and takes on some attributes of both. Purple is a regal and luxurious colour that represents wealth and power. It’s associated with creativity and imagination, too.
Purple has a rich history in English culture, often associated with royalty, luxury, and spirituality. In ancient times, it was a rare and expensive dye, reserved only for the wealthy and powerful. In Thailand, purple is the colour of mourning for widows.
In design, dark purples can give a sense wealth and luxury. Light purples are softer and are associated with spring and romance. In marketing, purple is often used to represent high-end and premium products.
Black: Sophistication and Elegance
Black is a timeless and classic colour that is often associated with sophistication, elegance, and power.
Black has a complex and varied history in English culture, often associated with mourning, death, and evil. In modern times, it is often used in fashion and design to represent minimalism and simplicity.
White: Purity and Cleanliness
White is a clean and pure colour that represents innocence, cleanliness, and simplicity.
It has a long history of being used in religious and spiritual contexts, and is often associated with angels and the divine.
In conclusion, understanding the cultural significance of colours is crucial to interpreting literature, art, and popular culture. Each colour holds deep-rooted historical and cultural symbolism, and understanding these associations is key to understanding the meanings behind their modern interpretations. By exploring the meanings and associations of red, blue, yellow, green, purple, black, and white, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the role that color plays in English culture.