Meaning Of Color

Color is very subjective. Ask anyone what their favorite color is and they will undoubtedly have a different answer than their neighbor. Often, this is simply to due to personal preference, but occasionally, it's due to cultural background or even the region where someone lives. That is why people from Tucson may lean toward earth tones, and some people from Miami still love the pastels.

Color theory is not just a class in college, but it is a science. Color can evoke feelings, and can be interpreted differently in many cultures. One color that shows one emotion in one country could show the opposite in another. Let's talk about color, and why it is important.

In general, there are three types, warm, cool and neutral colors. Warm colors, those in the red, orange and yellow families, are powerful, energizing and passionate colors. Red often means passion, love or maybe even danger. Orange is vibrant and energetic, less threatening than red and is often used to promote health and vitality. Here in the states, yellow is usually associated with happiness and sunshine.

Cool colors include purple, blue and green, and are usually more subdued than warm colors, and are generally thought of as relaxing, calming and reserved. Purple has been known for years as a royal color and can be thought of as creative and imaginative. Blue, in the US, is often associated with sadness, but can also be looked upon as strong, healthy and calming. Green often will represent growth and prosperity, and is why financial institutions often use this hue.

Neutrals, including white, black and earth tones are probably the most versatile, but may send a mixed message. White is associated with purity and cleanliness, while it's opposite, Black is the strongest of the neutrals, and is associated with power, elegance, but just as easily can signify death, mystery and evil. Earth tones often are a backdrop to a design, just like they are often used for walls, and can be elegant and sophisticated when used by themselves.

So, as we see, color can evoke an emotion, but you may want to know who your audience is , and where they reside before making your final color choice.


When talking color, using color in designs or using the tools found in applications like Adobe Photoshop, it may be helpful in understanding the terminology used by artists, and identify what the tools may do once you start manipulating colors.

Color is also referred to as "Hue", and it determines if the color viewed is red, green blue or yellow.

Value refers to the lightness or darkness of the color. To generate interest, use colors with varying value to create contrast, which will make the design appealing.

Tones in color refer to when grey is added to the Hue. Tones can often look soft, sophisticated and elegant.

Tints are created when white is added to a Hue, and are often used to make pastels, used in more feminine designs.

Shades are created when black is added to a Hue, and results in making the Hue darker. Shades, when made dark enough can be used as a neutral as well. These shades, when combined with tints will keep a design in balance, and not get too heavy.

Chroma refers to the purity of a color, meaning it determines how much white, black or grey is in the color. If a color has high chroma, it has little to no white, black or grey in it. In design, it is best to avoid using hues with very similar chroma.

Saturation refers to whether or not the color is strong or weak, pale or pure. When designing, colors with similar saturations will be more cohesive and soothing.

Color Schemes

There are several traditional color schemes, which can be used as a basis to create your own. Here is a list of the traditional color schemes:

Monchromatic - made up of different tones, shades and tints of a specific hue. These are simple color schemes, and often, not the most exciting.

Analogous - made up of three colors that are adjacent to each other on the 12-spoke color wheel.

Complimentary - complementary schemes are created by joining colors from opposite sides of the 12 spoke color wheel. These schemes usually consist of only two colors, but can be extended using tints, tones and shades. Please be watchful as occasionally, the colors may vibrate when placed together. try to leave white or black space between these colors.

Split Complimentary - rather than using colors directly across the color wheel use the color next to the one directly across. This often creates high contrast.

Triadic - this scheme is created when using three (3) hues equally spaced around the 12-spoke color wheel. This method can create a diverse and interesting selection from which to choose, and is popular among artists because it retains balance and often keeps a richness of color.

Tetradic - this method uses four colors arranged in two complimentary color pairs. This scheme is hard to make work, and may look unbalanced if all are used in equal amounts. It is best to use one as dominant color, and subdue the others.

While this process does not guarantee success for each and every project, following these recommendations will keep your user engaged and increase the chance of a successful user engagement.

Selecting A Color Scheme

Creating your own color scheme can be a little undaunting. If you are a freelancer and have a client without an existing style guides or idea of their own, you may be able to select whatever color you desire. If you work for a company with an established brand, you may have to stay within the confines of their defined visual style guide. While some of these guides are very rigid, others allow for a little more flexibility and creativity.

As you begin a project, during the investigation phase, ask the client if he/she has either a color preference or a visual style guide. If not, ask the client if there is a particular website they have come across where they like the color scheme. If this site is not that of a competitor, it could be used to start the design discussion.

Also, if that does not work, ask the client to deliver a favorite patterned shirt, dress, pillow, drape ...any fabric from home. You can then get an idea of what they like, and compare it with what might be best for the market they are wishing to play in. Keep in mind, there are really no hard and fast rules, but when designing, please remember the color you choose tells a story. Make it a good one.

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