December 2019

Using Color Theory to Enhance Designs and Influence People

By Andrea Light

Color may portray meaning through natural association or collective symbolism.

Think about your last visit to a hospital or nursery. What colors did you see throughout the room? More likely than not, you would have found shades of pastel blue or pale cream. These colors trigger natural associations of the sky or ocean and bring about a psychological sense of tranquility.

Think back to McDonald’s and other popular fast food restaurants of your childhood. What colors come to mind? Often bright shades of red, orange or yellow. This was no coincidence. Fast-food restaurants make money by serving as many customers as possible. Bright colors such as red are great at getting someone’s attention. Exposure over a longer period of time, psychologically makes people feel uncomfortable. Therefore, using bright colors in their branding and restaurant environments subconsciously lead customers to order and leave quickly, allowing the restaurant to serve more customers.

Color may portray meaning through natural association or collective symbolism.
Color may portray meaning through natural association or collective symbolism.

During court cases, defendants are told to refrain from bright colors and to wear blue over other colors. A person wearing blue is conceived to be more loyal or trustworthy.

Thinking about buying a car? The color you choose may have a direct impact on how many traffic stops you receive. Red calls attention and is more likely to receive a ticket.

Often our associations with color come from nature, but they can also be derived from culture. Think about the 1960s. What colors and symbols come to mind?

What are some personal associations you have with color? The table below is a short list of some common color associations.


Color Nature Common Association
Pink Carnations Friendship
Red Fire, Blood Passion, Anger, Aggression
Orange Sun, Fruit Habit, Friendship
Yellow Sun Wisdom, Refreshing, Energy
Green Grass, Trees Nature, Luck, Money, Growth
Blue Water, Sky Tranquility, Loyalty, Sadness
Purple Amethyst Royalty, Wealth, creativity
Brown Earth Grounding, Comfort
White Clouds, Light Purity, Energy
Black Absence of Light, Night Sky Evil, Power, Strength

Need some expert on using color theory? Reach out to us.

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