Using Color

With the advent of a sedentary life, reliance on text, ubiquitous signage and a host of other innovations through time, sight has arguably becme our most important means of survival.  Indeed, we are hardwired to consciously heed our sight from countless years of evolution – detecting and categorizing color has is part of our genetic code, literally and figuratively.  Color, as it relates to design and marketing, is fundamental to success and it’s unlikely that most designers would deny this.  But it bears repeating every now and again, particularly as we try to shake out of our day to day practices and innovate.

Color conveys meanings in two primary ways – natural associations and culturally defined symbolism. Successful design requires an awareness of how and why colors communicate meaning. The source of these meanings can be quite conspicuous, such as those found in nature.  For example, red is the color of blazing fire and blood, blue the color of cooling waters and the sky.  Green is the color of most vegetation.  But other meanings may be more complex and anything but universal.

Color is symbolically charged and this is where understanding it is crutial to getting design and marketing right.  This symbolism arises from cultural, historical and contemporary contexts.  For example, green’s associations with nature communicate growth, fruitfulness, freshness and ecology. On the other hand, green may also be symbolic of good luck, seasickness, money and greed Green was adopted as the color of Islam — all of which have nothing to do with green plants. These associations arise from a complex assortment of sources  

Furthermore, color may have both positive and negative symbolism.  For example, although blue is the beautiful color of the sky on a sunny day, it can be symbolic of sadness or stability. Idiomatic American English reflects these traits in phrases such as “singing the blues” and “blue chip stocks.” Red is another example of dual symbolism. On one hand, as the color of fire and blood, it is an energizing, aggressive and bold color. In direct contrast, red is used for “STOP” signs throughout the world today.  Add to this the fact that red takes on yet other meanings in non-Western environments and it becomes evident that understanding color and using it with thoughtful intent is central to how you brand is received, internalized and transmitted.



Published by gavinjohnston67

Take an ex-chef who’s now a full-fledge anthropologist and set him free to conduct qualitative research, ethnography, brand positioning, strategy and sociolinguistics studies and you have Gavin. He is committed to understand design and business problems by looking at them through an anthropological lens. He believes deeply in turning research findings into actionable results that provide solid business strategies and design ideas. It's not an insight until you do something with it. With over 18 years of experience in strategy, research, and communications, he has done research worldwide for a diverse set of clients within retail, legal, banking, automotive, telecommunications, health care and consumer products industries.

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