The Meaning of Colours You Choose
Carl Jung, a renowned psychiatrist and proponent of art therapy, encouraged his patients to use colour because he felt this would help them express some of the deeper parts of their psyche. It is believed that the colour choices you make reflect a deeper meaning about your personality traits. For example, introverts and extroverts are likely to choose different colours – blue and red respectively.
The colours you choose to wear might also say something about how you are feeling that day. Some days you may fee like wearing something lighter, something red, or something blue. These choices are often a reflection of how you are feeling at the moment. Additionally, wearing certain colours may cause you to react differently to certain situations.
How Do We See Colour?
There are 2 main sources of light that create the colours we see: the sun and lightbulbs. As you know, the light from the sun allows us to see things during the day as well as during the night when the sun’s light reflects off the moon. There is a visible spectrum of colours that we can see in addition to the combination of all colours (white) and the absence of colour (black).
Surfaces reflect and absorb light differently, which results in the colours we see through our eyes. For example, a tomato absorbs all light on the spectrum except the red rays of light. The red rays of light are reflected off the surface of the tomato which then reach our eyes for processing.
The coloured light enters the eye through the pupil, goes through the lens, then reaches the back of the eye called the retina. On the retina there are a bunch of light sensors called rods and cones. These rods and cones send a signal to the brain about what the eye is seeing. The cones are capable of seeing three colours: red, green, and blue. These are known as primary colours (RGB Model) – more about this below.
What is Colour Symbolism?
Colour symbolism is the use of colour as a representation or meaning of something that is usually specific to a particular culture or society. Context, culture and time are certainly important factors to consider when thinking about colour symbolism.
Red is a very hot colour. 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 warning labels are often red).
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.
Red has become the colour associated with AIDS awareness in Africa due to the popularity of the [RED] campaign.
In design, red can be a powerful accent colour. It can have an overwhelming effect if it’s used too much in designs, especially in its purest form. It’s a great colour 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.
Orange is a very vibrant and energetic colour. 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. 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.
Yellow is often considered the brightest and most energising of the warm colours. It’s associated with happiness and sunshine. Yellow can also be associated with deceit and cowardice, though (calling someone yellow is calling them 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.
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 designs, bright yellow can lend a sense of happiness and cheerfulness. Softer yellows are commonly used as a gender-neutral colour 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.
Green is a very down-to-earth colour. It can represent new beginnings and growth. It also signifies renewal and abundance. Alternatively, green can also represent envy or jealousy, and a lack of experience.
Green has many of the same calming attributes that blue has, but it also incorporates some of the energy of yellow. In design, green can have a balancing and harmonising effect, and is very stable.
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 is often associated with sadness in the English language. Blue is also used extensively to represent calmness and responsibility. Light blues can be refreshing and friendly. Dark blues are more strong and reliable. Blue is also associated with peace and has spiritual and religious connotations in many cultures and traditions (for example, the Virgin Mary is generally depicted wearing blue robes).
The meaning of blue is widely affected depending on the exact shade and hue. In design, the exact shade of blue you select will have a huge impact on how your designs are perceived. Light blues are often relaxed and calming. Bright blues can be energising and refreshing. Dark blues, like navy, are excellent for corporate sites or designs where strength and reliability are important.
Purple is a combination of red and blue and takes on some attributes of both. It’s associated with creativity and imagination, too.
In ancient times, the dyes used for creating purple hues were extracted from snails and were very expensive, so only royals and the very wealthy could afford them.
In Thailand, purple is the colour of mourning for widows. Dark purples are traditionally associated with wealth and royalty, while lighter purples (like lavender) are considered more romantic.
In design, dark purples can give a sense wealth and luxury. Light purples are softer and are associated with spring and romance.
Black is the strongest of the neutral colours. On the positive side, it’s commonly associated with power, elegance, and formality. On the negative side, it can be associated with evil, death, and mystery. Black is the traditional colour of mourning in many Western countries. It’s also associated with rebellion in some cultures, and is associated with Halloween and the occult.
Black, when used as more than an accent or for text, is commonly used in edgier designs, as well as in very elegant designs. It can be either conservative or modern, traditional or unconventional, depending on the colours it’s combined with. In design, black is commonly used for typography and other functional parts, because of its neutrality. Black can make it easier to convey a sense of sophistication and mystery in a design.
White is at the opposite end of the spectrum from black, but like black, it can work well with just about any other colour. White is often associated with purity, cleanliness, and virtue. In the West, white is commonly worn by brides on their wedding day. It’s also associated with the healthcare industry, especially with doctors, nurses and dentists. White is associated with goodness, and angels are often depicted in white.
In much of the East, however, white is associated with death and mourning. In India, it is traditionally the only colour widows are allowed to wear.
In design, white is generally considered a neutral backdrop that lets other colours in a design have a larger voice. It can help to convey cleanliness and simplicity, though, and is popular in minimalist designs. White in designs can also portray either winter or summer, depending on the other design motifs and colours that surround it.
Neutral colours often serve as the backdrop in design. They’re commonly combined with brighter accent colours. But they can also be used on their own in designs, and can create very sophisticated layouts. The meanings and impressions of neutral colours are much more affected by the colours that surround them than are warm and cool colours.
Nature, Wholesomeness, Dependability
Brown is associated with the earth, wood, and stone. It’s a completely natural colour and a warm neutral. Brown can be associated with dependability and reliability, with steadfastness, and with earthiness. It can also be considered dull.
In design, brown is commonly used as a background colour. It’s also seen in wood textures and sometimes in stone textures. It helps bring a feeling of warmth and wholesomeness to designs. It’s sometimes used in its darkest forms as a replacement for black, either in backgrounds or typography.
Beige and Tan
Conservative, Piety, Dull
Beige is somewhat unique in the colour spectrum, as it can take on cool or warm tones depending on the colours surrounding it. It has the warmth of brown and the coolness of white, and, like brown, is sometimes seen as dull. It’s a conservative colour in most instances, and is usually reserved for backgrounds. It can also symbolise piety.
Beige in design is generally used in backgrounds, and is commonly seen in backgrounds with a paper texture. It will take on the characteristics of colours around it, meaning it has little effect in itself on the final impression a design gives when used with other colours.
Cream and Ivory
Calm, Elegant, Purity
Ivory and cream are sophisticated colours, with some of the warmth of brown and a lot of the coolness of white. They’re generally quiet, and can often evoke a sense of history. Ivory is a calm colour, with some of the pureness associated with white, though it’s a bit warmer.
In design, ivory can lend a sense of elegance and calm to a site. When combined with earthy colours like peach or brown, it can take on an earthy quality. It can also be used to lighten darker colours, without the stark contrast of using white.