Subconsciously, our minds have typically associated the color red with stop and the color green with go. This isn’t a hard and fast rule of course since it’s possible that you live in a culture where either of these colors is associated with certain things or it’s also possible that you’re colorblind, in which case, you have my sympathies. Still, after years and years of sitting in an intersection and playing racing video games waiting for the light to turn green, it’s not exactly surprising that I’ve associated the colors red and green with stop and go.
Colors aren’t just colors; they meld with our own experiences and preferences that create their own associations and expectations. The color pink and yellow is typically associated with women and this is why in the classic kids show Power Rangers, the pink and yellow rangers are almost always female. By understanding how colors are associated, businesses can take advantage of colors in web development in order to encourage certain feelings and emotions in your websites or simply to increase usability.
The meaning of colours
Perhaps the phrase “perceived meaning” would be more apt since as I’ve hinted at, colors are all about perception. In signs, I’ve associated the color red with stop but when it comes to cars, I’m also extremely fond of that color as that was the color the Italian manufacturer Ferrari is most associated with. When I was a kid, my old man worked at Bridgestone and in the mid-to-late 90s, when they were heavily involved with Ferrari during their partnership in Formula 1, I was lucky enough to attend several corporate events involving Ferrari and with a local Ferrari owner’s club.
I was a very impressionable back then and seeing a parade of red supercars revving their engines made quite a bit of imprint on my memory and even now, I tend to gravitate to a red Ferrari if there are any available in a video game I’m playing. Of course, that is just one specific and personal example but if you’re thinking of using the right colors, you’re going to have to take a step back and look various colors are universally perceived. In the following section, we’re going to dive into the values of several popular colors.
Red, the color of fire, is typically associated with passion and strong, aggressive sentiments. Literally speaking, tinder is something you use to light a fire, typically by using a lighter or a match, when you’re camping. The dating app of the same name subtly use this fiery theme in their app, using the color red and the word match and the name of the app itself, to imply passion, lust and perhaps, love. In Chinese culture, the color red is also associated with good luck and all things joy, hence all the red in Chinatown and in or around Lunar New Year.
However, because the color red is also considered loud, it’s also the color of choice when you want to call attention into something. I wasn’t paying close attention to the United States election in 2016 but if there’s one thing I clearly remembers, it is Hillary Clinton’s red pantsuit. This is also why red is often used as a notification symbol as they’re very hard to miss. However, this loudness also means that you want to use the color red sparingly or at least use a lighter shade of red so as not to be off-putting.
The ocean comprises 71% of the Earth’s surface and yet, it’s still the color green that is commonly associated with our planet. Think Greenpeace, the Green New Deal proposed by US representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and green technologies that are all associated with the color green. Woolworths, one of Australia’s top grocery chains, heavily uses the color green in their branding and Subway, the sandwich chain that uses the phrase “eat fresh” as a slogan relies on the same color. For any businesses that are closely associated with nature, green provides an easy solution in bolstering your credentials.
The calming presence of blue
Blue is somewhat similar to green in that they offer a calming presence but blue takes it a step further since this particular helps instill trustworthiness. This is the reason why blue is quite popular among financial services and insurance companies, with QBE, ANZ, Allianz and AXA all heavily using this particular color in their branding. On the other hand, blue can also represent sadness and low spirits and you have to be careful when using blue with images and words as you don’t want to reinforce the wrong kind of emotions from users.
Zen and the art of black and white
Black and white is the epitome of simplicity and as it’s the color that is still in use with the more reputable publications around the world, such as The New York Times, using black and white gives off a lack of bias and a sense of balance. As I’ve repeatedly mentioned, certain colors are typically associated with certain emotions so for a company or a website to lean on a simple black and white scheme means that they want to give their contents to speak for themselves without using the influence of colors.
These days, grayscale can also be used to imply a sense of simplicity and a certain Zen to how you handle things. Just before the turn of the millennium, Apple famously reverted back to a simple black and white color scheme from the rainbow scheme they’ve used before and they’ve stuck with it since. This simplicity is also reflected in their products, which emphasizes sleek design, clean lines and minimalism as a whole, as a design principle. This scheme however can be tricky to use as it risks plunging you into anonymity so take extra care when trying to use this scheme and consider adding a splash of color here and there so as not to seem overly simplistic.