Describing the emotional connections that people can have with colors can be a very hippy-esque topic. If you find that hard to believe, just head over to your favorite online music store and sample some tracks from Colors by Ken Nordine. Although most designers will stop short at relying solely on the supposed meanings, characteristics, and personalities of specific colors, it’s still handy to have an understanding of the emotional attributes of some of the main color groups.
The color red has a reputation for stimulating adrenaline and blood pressure. Along with those physiological effects, red is also known to increase human metabolism. It is an exciting, dramatic, and rich color; after all, red is also a color of passion. Nothing says "love" like painting a wall bright red on Saint Valentine's Day for your sweetheart. The darker shades of red, such as burgundy and maroon, have a rich, indulgent feeling about them - in fact, they can be quite hoitytoity. Think about these colors when designing anything for wine enthusiasts or connoisseurs of fine living. The more earthy, brownish shades of red are associated with the fall season and harvest.
Like red, orange is a very active and energetic color, though it doesn't evoke the anger that red sometimes does. Instead, orange is thought to promote happiness and represents sunshine, enthusiasm, and creativity. Orange is a more informal and less corporate-feeling color, which is perhaps the reason the marketing gurus behind companies such as Cingular in the US and Orange in Europe decided to create brands with it. Since orange also stimulates metabolism and appetite, it's a great color for promoting food and cooking.
Yellow is a highly active and visible color, which is why it's used for taxicabs and caution signs. It's associated with happiness and energy, and is the signature color of "smileys". Like red and orange, pure yellow is a visibly active color. The original orange and lemon-lime flavors of the sports energy drink Gatorade are still the best-selling of the brand's products. This is likely due, in part at least, to the active, energetic characteristics associated with the colors orange and yellow.
An anonymous quote that's often used with color associations says, "Babies cry more in yellow rooms, husbands and wives fight more in yellow kitchens, and opera singers throw more tantrums in yellow dressing rooms." Whether this comment is true or not, the point is that too much yellow can be overpowering. Come on-if you were a baby stuck in a dressing room with fighting spouses and tantrum-throwing opera singers, you'd cry too!
Green is associated with nature. It is a very soothing color that symbolizes growth, freshness, and hope. It's much easier on the eyes, and far less active, than yellow, orange, or red. Although many web site designs that use green appeal to visitors' sense of nature, green is a very versatile color. When bright green is set against a black background, it really pops, and gives the design a techy feel.
On the touchy-feely level, blue symbolizes openness, intelligence, and faith. Physiologically, blue has been found to calm people down, but it can also reduce appetite. This effect is probably due in part to the rarity of blue in real food. Aside from blueberries, how many naturally blue foods can you count? Blue, it would seem, is just not a part of Nature's appetiteinducing palette, so it's not a great choice for promoting food products. Blue is sometimes seen as a symbol of bad luck and trouble. This emotional color connection is evident in blues music and in the paintings of Picasso's depression-induced Blue Period.
It's not all about unnatural food colors and downtrodden forms of art, though- blue also has universal appeal because of its association with the sky and the sea. This visual connection with water, sky, and air makes blue an obvious choice for web sites associated with airlines, air conditioning, pool filters, and cruises. Have you ever noticed that blue is the primary color in the logos of IBM, Dell, HP, and Microsoft? The reason for this is that blue also conveys a sense of stability and clarity of purpose ... that is, until you've experienced the blue screen of death!
Historically, the color purple has been associated with royalty and power. The secret behind purple's prestigious past has to do with the difficulty of producing the dye needed to create purple garments. To this day, purple still represents wealth and extravagance. That extravagance is carried over into nature. Purple is most often connected with flowers, gemstones, and sunsets. If you're trying to create a web site design that stands out from the crowd, think about using a rich shade of purple. According to CSS Zen Garden's Design category index, purple is by far the least commonly used color.
When people think "clean," they think of white. White is considered to be the color of perfection, light, and purity. This is why crisp white sheets are used in detergent commercials and why a bride wears a white dress on her wedding day. We often overlook these associations because of the default use of white as a background color, but they persist nonetheless. To get an idea of how ingrained the meaning of white is in our culture, just read the poem Design by Robert Frost. In it, Frost symbolically contradicts those associations by using white to represent death and darkness. Using colors in unexpected ways can be a good way to make a bold statement.
Although black often has negative connotations such as death and evil, it can also be a color of power, elegance, and strength, depending on how it's used. If you're considering using a particular color and are wondering what the associations are for that color, just ask yourself, "What are the first three things that come to mind when I think about this color?" When I think about black, for instance, I think about Johnny Cash, tuxedos, and Batman.
When I think about Johnny Cash, his dark clothing, deep voice, and sorrowful songs give a tangible meaning to the mental associations I perceive between the man and the color. If you analyze your top three color associations this way, you're bound to hit some common chords that other people share in regards to your color choices.