How Does Color Meaning Impact Design?

January 13, 2022
Posted in Design
January 13, 2022 Azka Munir

How Does Color Meaning Impact Design?

Color meaning and psychology have held their value in design. The colors we use in design elements tend to have an association with the response they can trigger.

Hence, it has an impact on our emotions, memory and also our heart rate. Using color theory in your design, you can achieve the desired result.

This article discusses what each color represents in order to incorporate that in your design. Let’s dive deeper below!


What is Color?

A color is a form of energy as it is a characteristic of light.

The objects around us reflect and absorb certain wavelengths.

This is why we see different wavelengths as colors.

colorful brain


Understanding Color Meaning and Types

Color is divided into primary, secondary and tertiary.

Primary colors are those that exist and you cannot formulate them through mixing.

However, you can create the rest of the colors using these three primary ones.

These include, red, blue and yellow.

This brings us to…

Secondary Colors are those that result from mixing the primary ones.

Hence, mixing red and blue will form purple, a mixture of red and yellow will form orange and blue and yellow results in green.

Next up are Tertiary Colors.

These form by mixing both primary and secondary colors.

Hence, a mixture of blue and purple becomes violet.

Similarly, mixing yellow and green forms chartreuse.

Hence, the three primary ones form the rest of the colors you see essentially by mixing.

Other than that, you can also divide these colors into warm and cool tones.

Warm colors are brown, orange, red, pink and yellow.

They are called warm colors because they evoke a sense of warmth.

What’s more, these are the colors of sunrises, fall, sunsets and fire hence giving a warm feeling.

You cannot make a warm color by mixing a warm and cool color.

These are basically a variation of two primary colors red and yellow and others resulting from mixing these.

Cool colors include blue, purple and green.

They look better in the background as they give a sense of reducing tension and calm because they are linked with night, nature and water.

Blue is the only primary color and to form other cool tones, you need to mix one with a warm tone.

Besides theses, there are neutral colors.

Grey, black and white is neither warm nor cool.

Now that we know what these colors are, it’s about time we find out about what these represent in design.



Color Meaning of Warm Colors

Looking at a rainbow, the colors go from warm to cool.

From left to right they represent, eliciting action to introspection.

Warm colors are on the left side of the ROYGBIV rainbow colors.

warm red color meaning


Red usually has several meanings tied to it.

It can represent, fire and violence while also love and passion.

Thus it is the color of both cupid and devil.

It can signify:

  • Power
  • Love
  • Urgency
  • Anger
  • Danger
  • Importance
  • Prosperity
  • Happiness
  • Mourning
  • Vigor
  • Ferocity

Hence, there are varied meanings for the color red.

It can culturally represent happiness and prosperity in China but in the same context mean mourning in South Africa.

It shows importance as widely used in red carpets and also to indicate danger.

Red can physically affect humans by increasing respiration rate and blood pressure.

When it comes to design, red holds importance in calling attention to the desired action.

For instance, it makes for a good call to action button.

Moreover, it creates a sense of urgency.

So if you want to ignite a sense of scarcity then you can use red background or vectors in your posters.

Though this is a versatile color with darker and brighter tones representing different aspects.

Dark red can be powerful whereas bright can be energetic.



What comes to mind when you think of orange?

Isn’t it usually fall? It mostly is!

Muted orange is usually associated with earth and autumn leaves.

Hence, it is an energetic color that represents vibrance.

Orange suggests:

  • Creativity
  • Change
  • Vitality
  • Vibrance
  • Happiness
  • Optimism
  • Caution
  • Energy
  • Health

Like red, orange represents a tonne of things too.

Due to its association with the fruit of the same name, it can elicit an emotion of health, wellness and vitality.

Plus, it can allude to change because of the changing seasons.

Similarly, orange is generally linked with feelings of happiness, energy and optimism while also representing caution when it comes to traffic lights.

Orange is similar to red because of its warm tone, though red are more intense.

Hence, in design, orange can be a color that brings attention while also not be overbearing or intense.

Therefore, it can be more welcoming, less in the face and friendly.

This can convince your audience to take an action while not feeling forced to do so.

yellow image


Yellow is seen as a bright and welcoming color.

It indicates warmth and carries the feeling of joy and positivity.

Sunshine is yellow hence, its association with warmth and also happiness.

It can represent:

  • Hope
  • Joy
  • Cowardice
  • Positivity
  • Danger
  • Courage
  • Illness

Culturally there can be varied meanings of the color.

It can represent courage in Japan while mourning in Egypt.

It can be a sign of hope in war but also of deceit and cowardice.

Plus it can also be a sign of warning in biohazard signs, illness (yellow mucus) or danger when looking at yellow wasps or venomous snakes.

Hence, the color meaning changes with the context.

When it comes to design, yellow is usually linked with feelings of happiness and brightness.

Usually, a light yellow gives the sense of calm better than brighter tones.

Plus, it is also a gender-neutral color for babies.

Darker yellows becoming borderline gold can allude to a sense of permanence and seem antique.

Moreover, as the color is present in several flowers then it comes in use for beauty, skincare or eco-friendly brand posters.

Since it is a warm-toned color, it is intense and garners attention but it isn’t as threatening unless used as a warning sign.

Either way, it is powerful.


Color Meaning of Cool Tones

Cooler tones are relaxing, calming and subdued in comparison to warm ones.Green, blue and violet/indigo or purple are the cool colors representing night, nature, and water hence eliciting calm.

Since green and purple form from mixing a cool and warm tone, they also carry the characteristic of warm colors.

color meaning of cool tones


It is the only primary color among the cooler tones.

There can be a different color meaning light or dark blue.

Light ones are friendly and refreshing while dark blues are reliable.

Hence it can represent responsibility, peace and also calmness.

It usually refers to:

  • serenity
  • wisdom
  • refreshing
  • calm
  • dependability
  • integrity
  • tranquility
  • reflection
  • stability
  • trust

Since blue is usually associated with water and sky, it gets the meaning of calm and serenity.

The link with reflection comes with the association to water acting as a mirror.

Usually, a light blue is used for these.

On the other hand, dark blue represents strength, stability and loyalty generating trust.

Hence, different shades and hues can represent a completely separate meaning.

Thus choosing the right shade in graphic design matters as to what message you want to convey.

In design, dark blue is part of the brand colors of financial and healthcare institutions.

Corporate needs you to trust them and rely on them.

Hence, they use navy or dark blue more often.

Similarly, light blues can go in the background of a portfolio to give a calming effect.

blue image


Green is in nature.

It is in the leaves, grass and trees.

Hence, it is a down-to-earth color that can represent balance and harmony.

It cn elicit these feelings:

  • Balance
  • Envy
  • Growth
  • Stability
  • Abundance
  • Wealth
  • Start

You may have heard of the phrase, “green with envy”.

That gives this color a feeling of envy and jealousy.

Since it is present greatly in nature, green can represent growth, new beginnings and prosperity.

Plus, the color is also linked with money, hence it can indicate wealth and abundance.

Olive greens represent the earth and the natural world.

While brighter shades of green are vibrant and energizing.

Darker ones represent stability and affluence.

Since green lies right in the middle of the ROY-G-BIV it has characteristics of both blue and yellow.

It balances the two tones between yellow and blue.

It has the energy of yellow while having the calmness of blue.

Therefore, in design, you have a variety of warmer yellow-greens and cooler blue-greens.

Blue-greens such as teal can come in use for design including beach and water.

Plus it can show stability, renewal, nature and abundance in design posters.

Hence, it is a symbol of balance that you can use in several ways such as green background or typography.

green image

Purple (Shades of Indigo and Violet)

You may have heard about purple representing royalty.

Well, that comes from years ago whereby purple could only be extracted from snails making it expensive enough for the royals to afford it.

Hence dark purple to date has some link with wealth, luxury and royalty.

Lighter ones can represent romance.

This color shows:

  • Wisdom
  • Spirituality
  • Royalty
  • Intuition
  • Creativity
  • Passion
  • Magic
  • Imagination

Purple has a spiritual meaning in several religions.

Plus, it also represents enlightenment for yoga practitioners.

Thus in design, darker shades of purple can showcase wealth and luxury.

It can also play a significant part in adding mystery to the design.

What’s more, lighter purples such as violet can be used to show romance or spring and other softer emotions.



Color Meaning of Neutrals

Besides warmer and cooler color hues, there are neutrals too.

These are the grey, black and whites found in neither warm or cool tones.

Their meaning depends on the colors surrounding them with these two tones as they are usually part of the background.

neutral tones


Some argue that the color white does not exist.

However, it is the combination of the wavelengths of all colors in a rainbow.

It is linked to positivity, clarity, purity, hope, simplicity, light, virtue and cleanliness.

Hence it can be a part of the design for hospitals and the medical sector.

However, its main use is usually as a background color to convey simplicity and a minimalist design.

It lets other colors shine by providing them a plain backdrop.


Between black and white, there is gray.

Light gray can replace white and dark one can replace black as the background.

Corporate designs use it more effectively whereby they need professionalism and formality.

Gray backgrounds are modern and also conservative.


Black can represent power and elegance but also evil and darkness.

It is usually part of elegant and edgier designs.

However, its main use in design is usually typography because it is neutral.


Brown is a warm neutral linked with wood and earth.

It can represent steadfastness, reliability and dependability.

Since brown is a warm neutral, its presence in design brings a feeling of warmth.

Hence, it is usually part of the background.

pink image


Pink is a mixture of two extreme ends, red and pink.

Hence, it is associated with sympathy and calm as well as empathy, love, tenderness and spontaneity.

In design, it can show a part that needs care and tenderness.

This is why pink is the symbol for breast cancer awareness.


The color meaning of all of these colors can affect the way the audience perceives your design.

Hence, while designing, you need to be wary of what message the color sends.

Will that lead to sales or deter people from looking at your product?

It can go both ways.

Hence, go for safer options.

Moreover do not forget to choose colors that are all-inclusive.

Around 4.5 percent of people worldwide have a vision impairment referring to color.

Thus, keep in mind to not use color combinations that people with color blindness cannot see.

So make inclusive designs that all of your is accessible to your audience on all platforms.

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