Colors and Their Meanings: A Guide for Marketers and Designers

Posted on June 6, 2024 | Updated on June 11, 2024

Colors and their meanings are complex things — no two cultures will view a color palette in the same way. Still, they generally evoke similar psychological, physical, and emotional responses. So, what colors represent which emotions? 

Warm Colors and Their Meanings

Warm colors and their meanings revolve around positive, bold, or powerful associations. They generally symbolize energy, urgency and cheer. Research suggests they can stimulate the nervous system, increase your heart rate or raise blood pressure.

Red 

Red is the color of passion, power, and hostility. It is very potent, so it can quickly become overwhelming in a design.

The meaning of red: 

  • Positive associations: In China, red represents prosperity, abundance and wealth. Many cultures associate this color with romance and pleasure because of its connection to menstrual cycles and the heart.
  • Negative associations: Since red is the color of blood, it represents violence and anger. The phrase “seeing red” means to be overwhelmed by rage. It can also symbolize embarrassment, as blushing is described as someone’s cheeks “turning red.”

Pink

Pink is a tint of red — meaning white has been added to it — making it the color of compassion, love, and tranquility. You can use a lot of it in a design without it feeling overwhelming.

The meaning of pink:

  • Positive associations: While pink used to be considered masculine, it now represents femininity and delicateness — and is associated with gentleness and nurturing.
  • Negative associations: Pink is often associated with being overly optimistic, as the phrase “rose-colored glasses” suggests. 

Orange

Orange is the color of excitement and cheerfulness. It’s relatively uncommon to see a naturally occurring bright orange, making it incredibly eye-catching. 

The meaning of orange:

  • Positive associations: This warm color is exceptionally vibrant and light, so its positive representations include energy and liveliness. 
  • Negative associations: Orange represents alertness and anxiety, which is why it’s the primary color for safety vests, road signs, and traffic cones. 

Yellow

Yellow is the color of happiness and optimism.  

The meaning of yellow:

  • Positive associations: Yellow represents warmth and prosperity because of the sun. Joy is another common association, thanks to the classic smiley face. 
  • Negative associations: People associate yellow with caution and cowardice, as the phrase “yellow-bellied” suggests. It is also often associated with sickness or disease, as it can be the color of rot or mold.

Cool Colors and Their Meanings 

What colors represent peace? Cool colors and their meanings are more subdued than their warm counterparts. They generally symbolize rest, solemnity, and serenity. They’re often used to alleviate overstimulation, soothe the mind, and relax the body. 

Green

Green is the color of nature, reliability, and safety. It has well-studied physical and psychological effects — greenery can improve productivity and mood. 

The meaning of green:

  • Positive associations: Greenery is associated with creation and abundance. Having a “green thumb” means you excel at gardening. Many currencies are green, so the color also represents fortune. The phrase “in the green” means you’re making a profit.
  • Negative associations: Green can represent disgust because of its strong ties to sickness — like with mucus, vomit, and skin discoloration. It can also stand for jealousy, as the phrase “green with envy” suggests.

Teal

Teal is a combination of green and blue, making it the color of tranquility, playfulness, and stability.

The meaning of teal:

  • Positive associations: Teal is a rarity in nature — it only occurs in some plants, animals, and tropical oceans. As a result, it represents rejuvenation and exclusivity. 
  • Negative associations: Too much of a good thing is usually bad — rejuvenation and exclusivity can quickly become boring and elitist in excess.

Blue

Blue is the color of relaxation, security, sadness and confidence. It is one of the few colors that has mostly positive meanings across almost all cultures. 

The meaning of blue:

  • Positive associations: This color often represents relaxation because of its strong connection to the sky — the quiet, constant background in everyone’s lives.
  • Negative associations: Blue often represents sadness, as the saying “feeling blue” suggests. It can also represent an unwanted surprise — if something happens “out of the blue,” that means it was startling or unexpected.

Purple

Purple is the color of majesty, elegance, and creativity. Many luxury brands use it. 

The meaning of purple:

  • Positive associations: Historically, purple has represented royalty, the divine, and the arcane because it rarely occurs in nature. In modern times, it is associated with luxury, wisdom, and intrigue.
  • Negative associations: You don’t do too much of a good thing — in excess, the extravagance of purple can seem tacky and baffling.

Neutral Colors and Their Meanings 

Neutral colors and their meanings revolve around balance, normalcy and restraint. They either symbolize objectivity or represent the extreme ends of a spectrum. With these, finding out what colors represent what emotions are a bit more complex. 

Tan

Tan is the color of consistency and simplicity. This color is special because it can be seen as cool or warm depending on its tint, tone, and hue.

The meaning of tan:

  • Positive associations: Tan is a tint of brown, so it has a subdued version of those associations. It often represents aspects of nature and is associated with stability.  
  • Negative associations: Tan is arguably the most neutral color, so it has no overly negative associations. 

Brown

Brown is the color of prosperity, fertility, indulgence, and dependability. 

The meaning of brown:

  • Positive associations: Brown is the color of soil and roots, so it is often associated with abundance and renewal. 
  • Negative associations: This color can represent overindulgence — like how a “brown noser” flatters so excessively to the point their peers look down on them.

Black

Black is the color of authority, solitude, affluence, and mystery.

The meaning of black:

  • Positive associations: Black can represent the comfort and seclusion nighttime brings. It is also associated with modernity and elegance — a “black tie” event is usually posh and has a formal dress code.
  • Negative associations: Black is the color of mourning, representing the void the recently-departed once filled. Another negative association involves shame — a “black sheep” is someone who disgraces their family.

Gray

Gray is the color of uniformity and monotony. 

The meaning of gray:

  • Positive associations: Gray can represent self-restraint and steadiness. Many people associate it with concrete and stone, which are tough, sometimes immovable, objects.
  • Negative associations: As the in-between of black and white, gray represents indecisiveness —- as the saying “a gray area” suggests. It is also often associated with boredom and conformity.

White

White is the color of emptiness, purity and comfort.

The meaning of white:

  • Positive associations: Many people associate white with cleanliness — think of hospital rooms and freshly swept floors. This color can also represent exclusivity.

Now You Know What Colors Represent What Emotions

Since the emotions, associations, and symbolism tied to each color are so complex — thousands of years of history and cultural divides complicate things — there’s little point in getting into particulars. In other words, you can make an educated guess on colors like red-orange. For the most part, knowing the basics is enough to help you elevate your projects.

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