Understanding the meaning of colors

Color subconsciously influences our emotions, feelings and ultimately our decisions immensely. And as you probably know it is a vital part of branding and any kind of marketing.

If you get the colors for your brand right, they will influence your customers and their feel towards your brand and ultimately their buying decisions in a positive way.

On the flip side if you get them wrong and use a wrong colors for your communication it can also influence your customers negatively.

Subconsciously we probably know which colors are right for our brands but defining them can sometimes be a little difficult. We know when we look at a color if we personally like it or not. But sometimes it is difficult to let go of that personal feeling and decide which color is right for our brand. Or we know a color is not right for our brand but often we can not pin point why.

So today I want to give you a quick introduction into the psychology of colors and then specifically define the feelings, emotions and usages of the main basic colors.

The meaning of colors

I personally love colors, especially when they are plain and pure. I love to study the psychology behind them and see how different people like and respond differently to colors. As a child I even defined people by using colors. People that were especially outgoing, happy and smiling a lot I would describe as yellow and the image in my head would be bright and with a yellow tint when I thought of them. Whereas people that I did not like so much were more brown for me for example. There was also a friend of my mum who in my mind was a dark green. And she was actually down to earth, no big frills, living in the countryside and I am sure she is only buying organic today :-) When I thought of here, the image in my head was always green. I am not sure you can relate and it might sound a bit spooky for some of you. However subconsciously I used color psychology.

There is a lot of information about color out there of course and I will cover the basics but I will also add a little bit of my personal opinion and how to change things up when it comes to colors.

What is color psychology?

According to wikipedia Color psychology is the study of hues as a determinant of human behavior. Color influences perceptions that are not obvious, such as the taste of food. Colours can also enhance the effectiveness of placebos. For example, red or orange pills are generally used as stimulants. Colour can indeed influence a person; however, it is important to remember that these effects differ between people. Factors such as gender, age, and culture can influence how an individual perceives color.

Color psychology is also widely used in marketing and branding. Many marketers see color as an important part of marketing because color can be used to influence consumers' emotions and perceptions of goods and services. Companies also use color when deciding on brand logos. These logos seem to attract more customers when the color of the brand logo matches the personality of the goods or services, such as the color pink being heavily used on Victoria's Secret branding. Colors are also important for window displays in stores. Research shows that warm colors tended to attract spontaneous purchasers, despite cooler colors being more favorable.

This sums it up greatly and I actually don’t need to add more.

But again it comes all back to knowing your customer and audience when using colors. So you can use the right colors. As the perception does differ between people, gender, age groups and personality you need to make sure to really understand your audience.

Learn more about how to define your ideal customer here.

What are the meanings of colors?

Put very simply colors on the right side of the color wheel are warm, uplifting, fun and bold. And the colors on the left side are more cool and calm and convert a feeling of reassurance and trust.

Meaning of colors | MNFL Design

 

Here is a more detailed description of the meaning of each color:

 

Just download my cheatsheet with a quick overview of all the meanings of the colors here. You can print it and hang it over your computer to be reminded of the meanings all the time. Or just read on ;-))

 

The meaning of colors

Understanding the meaning of colors

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What are the meanings of colors | MNFL Design

Red

is obviously a very powerful and strong color which is often associated with love and passion as well as women. However it is also associated with blood, stop lights and signs as well as plainly attention seeking like sale signs etc.

Red stands for energy, strength and motivation but it is also aggressive. It definitely always creates an impact.

However red can also have a negative and alarming feeling, think for example of the stock exchange going down or red numbers in accounting...

Many people shy away from red and are a little bit scared to use it but don’t forget you don’t need to use the primary color red but different shades or tones of red can give your color palette this little bit of extra energy.

When used sparingly it can make a great impact and give your brand and communication a little extra spark.

I mean think about it, when women use red nail polish, it is just a small detail but paired right it does add a little bit extra spark and grabs the attention of other people. The same applies to branding!

What are the meanings of colors | MNFL Design
What are the meanings of colors | MNFL Design

Have a look at my Pinterest board for the color red here and if you scroll through it you will have a feeling that this board creates for you. I think this will actually explain the color red without using any words :-)

What are the meanings of colors | MNFL Design

Orange

is a mix of red and yellow and therefore contains the strong attributes of red and the fun and friendly attributes of yellow. It usually stands for warmth, happiness, creativity, security and comfort as well as food. Apparently it stimulates your appetite ;-)

Orange is a very optimistic color and is often used to uplift the outlook of life. It helps us bounce back from difficult times.

I feel there is definitely always a strong reaction to orange and many people also have negative feelings towards orange, for example that it looks cheap and don’t want to use it in their brand.

However please don’t forget that there are so many different shades of orange and it is a very versatile color. Like red adding a little bit of orange to your color palette and used sparingly can add a very confidence and uplifting touch.

Also don’t forget all the softer, coral shades which can make a wonderful addition to a more female color palette.

What are the meanings of colors | MNFL Design

Again have a look at my Pinterest board for Orange to get a feel for the orange and it's attributes.

What is the meaning of colors | MNFL Design

Yellow

is clearly the color of happiness, fun and friendliness. It reminds us people of the sun, light and probably a smiley face. It is a very uplifting color and it brings about confidence and optimism.

It also stands for creativity and being awake. And I think it pairs super well with black. 

However many people don’t like yellow as it also has a lot of negative attributes like jealousy and resentment.

It is actually a difficult color to use and when toned down wrong it can easily bring out a wrong direction and bring someone down and make them anxious and lacking confidence.

It is a bit tricky to use in a brand but great as accent colour. However I want to share with you a brand that I think has used it very well:

meaning of colors | MNFL Design

And when you look at my yellow Pinterest board here, you will immediately feel an uplift in your mood :-) However I think you will also see how difficult it is to pair for branding and marketing.

What are the meanings of colors | MNFL Design

Green

is a restful, healing and balanced color and it has a high association with life and nature. As humans we associate the color green with the spring, trees, grass and in general plants and nature. For the eye green is a very nice color that is soothing to look at. For example in Germany all the black boards at schools used to be green :-)

Green is often used for organic and environmental as well as health and yoga brands. Also brands in general who want to display nature, eco friendliness, harmony and mindfulness use green in different shades.

However don’t forget that a dark, deep green is also very sophisticated and trustworthy.

A lighter green or lime green portrays fun and happiness.

And here is the link to my green Pinterest board.

What are the meanings of colors | MNFL Design

Blue

is the color that stands for trust, reliability, stability and professionalism. That is also why it is often used by banks. Blue is also a very calming and relaxing color and us humans often associate the endless sky and the sea which evokes a feeling of freedom and wide space.

Blue is also a very reflective and calming color which is used to destress. And blue stands for purity and cleanliness so it is often used by water purification or cleaning companies.

No surprise that blue is one of the most favorite color among people around the world.

However blue can also seem cold and unfriendly if used too much.

Different shades of blue evoke different feelings. Like a dark blue is seen as elegant, rich and superior whereas a soft blue is more healing and calming and a bright blue is associated with clarity. You can check my Pinterest board here and see what feeling you get when looking at the different shades.

In any way, blue is a very versatile color and can be used for many brands.  

What are the meanings of colors | MNFL Design

Purple

combines the strength of red and the trust of blue. It is often associated with royalty and luxury as well as wealth and extravagance. However it is also a very mystical color and somewhat eccentric.

However when using a very dark purple it can be a great alternative to black and create a feeling of strength and visionary. There are also so many shades of a lighter purple which are very feminine colors and a great alternative to pink.

It is also great to add a shade of purple to your color palette as it is not used that often and can give a little bit of a different twist to a brand.

Again head over to my Pinterest account and get a feeling for purple and see how powerful it can be.

What are the meanings of colors | MNFL Design

Pink

is obviously a very feminine, delicate, sweet and charming color but a little bit like orange it take provoke some strong feelings even among women.

Pink is a very warm, reassuring and soothing color as well as romantic and intimate.

Whereas light pink is often associated with flowers, babies, little girls and sweets, bright pink can be very powerful with a lot of energy and empowering emotions.

It is not a physical color but a stimulating one and it is perfect for caring and nurturing industries.

Obviously it is a great accent color for brands whose audience is mainly female.

Find my Pink Pinterest board here for inspiration.

What are the meanings of colors | MNFL Design

Brown

is the color of earth, it stands for home, reliability, security, warmth and wholesomeness.

It is a very natural, earthy and neutral color and is usually associated with the seasons autumn and winter. Brown is also a great alternative to black. And it can be paired well with golden tones. So don’t underestimate brown, in different shades it can make a great color for a brand.  

Of course brown is also popular for a lot of coffee brands and shops :-)

Head over to my brown Pinterest board to feel the warmth brown will bring about.

Meaning of color | MNFL Design

Black

is a generally a go to color and used a lot. For branding but also for fashion for example. It is of course very glamorous, powerful, opulent and sophisticated as well as mysterious. And it can add a lot of drama (in a positive way) to a brand. But it is also uncompromising and quite serious.

Personally I love black and there are so many different shades of black actually which can be used great for a brand. However, be careful with it, it can be dangerous and boring to just use black and should not be used too much to avoid a design look and feel a bit dull and triste.

Have a look and give alternatives like a very dark purple or brown a try. Here are two examples of where a client wanted to use black but we realized a dark brown would be much better for her brand and another example of where a shade of black is very powerful for a brand background color.

DeLight Business cards | MNFL Design
Urban Vision UAE | Logo Design | MNFL Design

Again head over to one of my favorite Pinterest boards to feel the power and elegance of black. 

Meaning of color | MNFL Design

White: Another color I absolutely love. White stands for clarity, purity, simplicity, freshness and perfection. It often is a symbol for piece, the good, the truth, believe and a new beginning. It is always very clean, sophisticated and gives us a feeling of airieness and space. However don’t forget it can also be uncompromising. White has no negative associations and is considered the perfect color.

White does not need to be used in your branding and logo for example you can also use a lot of white space for your branded material like photography or marketing material. White space can be very powerful. And it is something I really like to do for example. My website designs are usually very clean and I love using white space. White space is so powerful and makes the rest stand out.

 

This is for example my website where I use a lot of white space:

 

And do have a look at this beautiful white Pinterest board to really feel the simplicty of white. 

What are the meanings of colors | MNFL Design

Metallics are great accent colors but need to be used sparingly. Silver stands for industrial, modern and sleek designs. Whereas gold is very glamorous, illuminating and opulent and bronze is a downgraded more warmer version of that. For some logos they work really well but I think they would need to be thin lines.

And don’t forget they can be difficult to display on the web. I have also not created a Pinterest board yet.. as I don't feel so drawn to metallics. Sorry :-) 

What are the meanings of colors | MNFL Design

Grey has actually no real positive associations. It is again a go to color that many people use in branding and fashion as it is neutral, cool and balanced. However it is usually associated with dirt, moodiness, depression and lack of energy and confidence.

People like grey because it is very versatile and when adding a hint of another color it can pick up on their effects. For example a dark grey carries also the strong attributes of black but being more feminine and a light grey will be associated with the pure attributes of white. And of course it can be paired with every color and is a good alternative to black which is sometimes a bit overwhelming and easier on the eye.

What are the meanings of colors | MNFL Design

This is for example a moodboard I found on Pinterest that uses grey very good. Yes, it is a little depressing and moody. But on the other hand it is also quite mysterious and I feel you would want to find out more about this brand and what’s behind it. Imagine all this in black and it would be totally dark and overwhelming. Like this it is more feminine and less strong.

And for some more grey color inspiration on Pinterest go here.

I could actually go on and on about colors but I have to stop at some point :-) I will write another post about the color wheel in the future.

Let me know if you have any questions or comments!

Xx Emilia


I found this great post on www.canva.com about color psychology and the logo color tricks used by top companies. Have a look: https://www.canva.com/learn/color-psychology-the-logo-color-tricks-used-by-top-companies/

And have a look at this great image, created by them, which shows the colors used by industry! Super Interesting!

Image source: Canva

Most popular logo colors by industry


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