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Springtime > The Influence of Color

The Influence of Color

As a designer seeking to offer a message to your audience, you’ll find that an understanding of the psychological effects, cultural influence, and gender bias of color is as important as the more technical concerns.

Sending a Clear Message

While the way your content is written, laid out, and enhanced with imagery will undoubtedly provide an overt means of how the goals of a site is expressed, the use of color is a significant piece of visual communication. The experienced designer knows to use colors that are appropriate for the message and the audience. Color can be as persuasive to the human eye as imagery and text, and perhaps even more so at times.


Certainly, using the reverse of expected colors can create conflict, making for an interesting approach to design, which can lead to excellent results. However, being daring in that way requires even more planning and testing to ensure that the chosen colors are doing their job. The point here is to show the natural correlation between colors and human response.

If your assignment is to create a site for a death metal rock band, the use of bright colors such as yellow and pink on a white background would be counterproductive to the message. Death metal is synonymous with darkness, and while bright colors can certainly be used within the design, the clearest message about the band is communicated through use of dark, heavy colors typically associated with that genre of music.

Conversely, if you’re creating a site for a classical quartet, a very dark site won’t convey the sense of sophistication and the lighter sound of that genre. Choosing colors that are in accordance with the subject matter and message of your site is crucial for a design to be effective.

Color and the Human Psyche

The influence of color on human emotion is an area of great fascination. It is a complex relationship involving numerous factors.

If someone cannot see, the point is obviously moot. For those with partial color perception, the experience simply cannot be the same as for a person with full color perception. Approximately 1 in 12 North Americans suffers from the most widespread form of color blindness (dichromacy, the inability to distinguish two colors from one another, most commonly red and green). For that reason, it’s important to keep your audience demographic in mind when choosing your colors.

The hue of a color can change its significance, too. A bright green evokes a certain emotion, whereas khaki green produces different results. Similarly, adding texture to color can alter its perception. TABLE 1 lists common colors and their general psychological associations.

Table 1. Psychological Associations with Common Colors
RedPower, energy, love, passion, aggression, danger
BlueTrust, conservative, secure, clean, sorrowful, order
GreenNature, earth, health, jealousy, renewal
OrangeFun, happiness
YellowOptimism, hope, philosophy, cowardice
VioletRoyalty, mystery, religion
BrownReliability, comfort, endurance, earth
Gray/silverIntellect, futurism, modesty, sadness, decay, elegance
BlackPower, sexuality, sophistication, mystery, fear, unhappiness, death
WhitePurity, cleanliness, precision, innocence, sterility, death

As you might have noticed, there are some contradictions within associations of individual colors, and dichotomies between different colors like black and white. Red, for example, both inspires passion and expresses danger (perhaps the two really aren’t so different?). Again, there are numerous factors connected to these apparent contradictions, and cultural as well as gender differences are responsible for a great deal of the discrepancies.

In the case of Springtime, the hue and intensity of the greens chosen are soft and pleasing, evocative of grass and leaves. The touch of blue in the design also helps extend the expression of nature, (FIGURE 1).

Figure 1. The palette for Springtime, including a range of green, a hint of blue, and white.

Color, Culture, and Gender

Attila is Hungarian. Do an artist’s cultural roots and the environment in which he or she lives and works influence their design choices and perception of color? Experts would agree that this is so. Similarly, the gender and culture of a viewer of Springtime may well affect that visitor’s experience of the design.


To learn more about color and find numerous research articles, books, and other color resources, visit Professor J. L. Morton’s Web site, Colorcom (www.colorcom.com). Another great site for information about color is Causes of Color (http://webexhibits.org/causesofcolor).

Culture and gender extend and complicate the basic responses to and associations with color discussed in the preceding section. TABLE 2 provides some insight into color responses and associations based on culture and gender. As you can quickly surmise, the use of color—especially in a worldwide forum such as the Web—has to be considered very carefully.

Table 2. Color and Influences of Culture and Gender
RedIn China, a symbol of profound good luck. When mixed with white, this intensifies. More women choose red over blue.
BlueThe color of immortality in many Eastern countries, blue is the color of holiness for the Jews, and it represents Krishna in Hinduism. It is revered throughout the world and, as a result, is considered to be the most globally safe color. Men prefer blue to red.
GreenAssociated with money in the United States but not necessarily in other cultures. Green has strong emotional associations in Ireland, where it represents Irish Catholic nationalists. Women can identify more named hues of green than men.
OrangeIn the United States, a tradition in packaging design is to use orange to signify inexpensive items. When designing with orange for business sites, it’s important to bear this in mind. Orange has strong emotional connotations for the Irish, as it represents Protestantism. Men prefer orange to yellow.
YellowA sacred, imperial color in Asian cultures. Women prefer yellow to orange and associate it with warmth and optimism.
VioletAssociated with mourning in Europe. It is also associated with newage and alternative religions, so it can be considered controversial. Violet is found relatively rarely in nature: a few species of flowers and some saltwater fish.
BrownA neutral color both culturally and gender-wise.
BlackMourning and death in most Western cultures and many others, too.
WhiteMourning and death in most Asian cultures. Purity and chastity in most of Western society.

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