Color theory for designers, part 1: the meaning of color

Color in design is very subjective. What evokes one reaction in one person may evoke a very different reaction in somone else. Sometimes this is due to personal preference, and other times due to cultural background. Color theory is a science in itself. Studying how colors affect different people, either individually or as a group, is something some people build their careers on. And there’s a lot to it. Something as simple as changing the exact hue or saturation of a color can evoke a completely different feeling. Cultural differences mean that something that’s happy and uplifting in one country can be depressing in another.

Colorstar in Color Theory for Designers, Part 1: The Meaning of Color

This is the first in a three-part series on color theory. Here we’ll discuss the meanings behind the different color families, and give some examples of how these colors are used (with a bit of analysis for each). In Part 2 we’ll talk about how hue, chroma, value, saturation, tones, tints and shades affect the way we perceive colors. And in Part 3 we’ll discuss how to create effective color palettes for your own designs.
Warm Colors

Warmcolors in Color Theory for Designers, Part 1: The Meaning of Color

Warm colors include red, orange, and yellow, and variations of those three colors. These are the colors of fire, of fall leaves, and of sunsets and sunrises, and are generally energizing, passionate, and positive.

Red and yellow are both primary colors, with orange falling in the middle, which means warm colors are all truly warm and aren’t created by combining a warm color with a cool color. Use warm colors in your designs to reflect passion, happiness, enthusiasm, and energy.
Red (Primary Color)

Red in Color Theory for Designers, Part 1: The Meaning of Color

Red is a very hot color. It’s associated with fire, violence, and warfare. It’s also associated with love and passion. In history, it’s been associated with both the Devil and Cupid. Red can actually have a physical effect on people, raising blood pressure and respiration rates. It’s been shown to enhance human metabolism, too.

Red can be associated with anger, but is also associated with importance (think of the red carpet at awards shows and celebrity events). Red also indicates danger (the reason stop lights and signs are red, and that most warning labels are red).

Outside the western world, red has different associations. For example, in China, red is the color of prosperity and happiness. It can also be used to attract good luck. In other eastern cultures, red is worn by brides on their wedding days. In South Africa, however, red is the color of mourning. Red is also associated with communism. Red has become the color associated with AIDS awareness in Africa due to the popularity of the [RED] campaign.

In design, red can be a powerful accent color. It can have an overwhelming effect if it’s used too much in designs, especially in its purest form. It’s a great color to use when power or passion want to be portrayed in the design. Red can be very versatile, though, with brighter versions being more energetic and darker shades being more powerful and elegant.


Darkcrimson in Color Theory for Designers, Part 1: The Meaning of Color

The dark shades of red in this design give a powerful and elegant feel to the site.

Abstraktion in Color Theory for Designers, Part 1: The Meaning of Color

The true red accents stand out against the dark black background, and give a powerful and high-end feeling to the site.