How To Use Color Correctly In Your Designs - Creative World

How To Use Color Correctly In Your Designs

How To Use Color Correctly In Your Designs

People are physically, psychologically, and socially influenced by color. Color has been found to have connections to health and it can help set the mood through which your designs are seen.

Color communicates meaning and so we need to be conscious of what meaning we’re conveying when we choose to use one color over another. It’s not enough for a designer to use a color simply because he or she likes that color.

Color is a tool in the designer’s toolbox much the same as a grid or whitespace and it’s important to understand how to use that tool.

Last week we talked about the color theory and how we could represent color and choose different color schemes. This week we’ll take a look at the meaning colors communicate, how we can better control our designs through our color choices and finally how to go about choosing a color scheme that reinforces the message your design aims to communicate.

Meaning of Color

The first and perhaps most important thing to understand about the meaning of color is that there is no substantive evidence that support a universal system of color meaning. It’s not that colors themselves have specific meaning, but rather that we have culturally assigned meanings to them.

While some color symbolism exists globally (red as the color of a stop sign, yellow for caution), color symbolism tends to be more common within a given culture than across different cultures (white is used for weddings in Western cultures and for funerals in Eastern cultures).

Even within a single culture individual differences will exist. You and I will not necessarily be affected in the same way by seeing the same color.

The above means that it’s important to understand who your target audience is and how your audience attaches meaning to color. Again it’s not that a color has a specific meaning on its own. It’s that we’ve culturally assigned meaning to colors. Keep that in mind as you read some of the specifics about the colors mentioned below.

Warm Colors

Warm Colors: For the sake of simplicity let’s define warm colors as red, orange and yellow. These are the colors of fire. They radiate warmth. Warm colors are more often associated with passion, energy, impulsiveness, happiness, coziness, and comfort. They draw attention and have the advantage of being inviting and harmonious.

Cool Colors

Cool Colors: Again for the sake of simplicity let’s define cool colors as green, blue, and violet. These are the colors of water. Cool colors are more often associated with calm, trust, and professionalism. The are also associated with sadness and melancholy. The have the advantage of being professional and harmonious, but can also turn people off by the coolness they radiate.
Note: The demarcation point between warm and cool colors falls somewhere between yellow/green and violate red. Green and purple don’t fall neatly into either warm or cool camps. The tend to take on the properties of one or the other based on the surrounding context.

Red Color

Red: is the color of fire and blood. It’s emotionally intense. Red is associated with energy, war, danger, strength, power, determination, action, confidence, courage, vitality, passion, desire, and love. It can enhance metabolism, increase respiration, and raise blood pressure. Red has a high visibility and advances to the foreground. It is often used for buttons in order to get people to take impulsive action.

Yellow Color

Yellow: is the color of the sun. Bright yellow attracts attention, though it can also be distracting when overused. Yellow is associated with joy, happiness, wisdom, and intellectual energy. It stimulates mental activity and generates muscle energy. Yellow produces a warming effect, arouses cheerfulness and is often used to evoke pleasant feelings. Shades of yellow can become dingy lessening the pleasing effect.

Blue Color

Blue: is the color of the sky and the sea. It has the opposite effect of red and slows metabolism, breathing, and heart rate. It’s seen as a masculine color. Blue is associated with trust, loyalty, wisdom, intelligence, expertise, confidence, stability and depth. It creates a calming effect, suppresses appetite and has been considered to be beneficial to both body and mind. Blue is often used for corporate sites given the previously mentioned associations.

Orange Color

Orange: combines the energy or red with the happiness of yellow. It’s not as aggressive as red and calls to mind healthy food (citrus). . Orange is associated with joy, sunshine, the tropics, enthusiasm, happiness, fascination, creativity, determination, attraction, success, encouragement, stimulation, and strength. It can increase appetite and evokes thoughts of fall and harvest.

Green Color

Green: is the color of nature. It symbolizes growth, hope, freshness, and fertility. In countries with green money such as the U.S. it evokes thoughts and feelings of financial wealth. Green is associated with healing, stability, endurance, harmony, safety. life, and well being. It can sometimes signify a lack of experience and is often used to indicate the safety of drugs and medical products in advertising.


Purple: combines the stability of blue and the energy of red. It conveys wealth and extravagance and is seen as the color or royalty. It symbolizes power, nobility, luxury, and ambition. Purple is associated with wisdom, dignity, independence, creativity, mystery, and magic. Light purple is seen as feminine and purple is a popular color with children. Purple occurs less frequently in nature and some may consider it artificial. In Catholic cultures it is representative of death and in some Islamic nations it is associated with prostitution.


White: is associated with light, goodness, innocence, purity, virginity. It usually has positive connotations and is seen as clean and safe.


Black: is associated with power, elegance, formality, death, evil, and mystery. It denotes strength and authority, is seen as formal and elegant, and brings forth feelings of fear and the unknown.


Gray: is the color of sorrow, detachment, and isolation. It connotes responsibility and conservative practicality. It’s a neutral color and creates a non-invasive feeling. It’s associated with security, maturity, and dependability. It can be used to reduce the intense energy of another color and to emphasize a willingness to comply. Some people who prefer gray many be seen as the lone wolf type or narrow-minded.


Brown: is the color of the earth and tends to blend into the background. It’s associated with material things, order, and convention. It’s connection to the earth gives it stability. Brown can convey a solid and wholesome feeling.

The Visual Effect of Color in Your Designs

Using colors that don’t work well together, using too many colors, or even not enough could drive people away before they have a chance to absorb your content. Ideally you should plan and choose a color scheme from the start and you should be consistent in how you use color in your design.


Color is used to attract attention, group related elements, convey meaning, and generally enhance the aesthetics of your site. It can be used to organize your elements and create a visual hierarchy in your design.


A small dose of color that contrasts with your main color will draw attention. It will give emphasis. Repeating colors on elements like page headings gives an immediate visual cue that those headings are related.


Warmer colors advance into the foreground while cooler colors recede into the background. Your choice in warm and cool colors can affect the figure/ground relationship of your elements. Since cooler colors recede you may decide to use them for background elements and because warmed colors advance they make a good choice for elements in the foreground.

By mixing warm and cool colors you can create depth in your design. Consider Van Gogh’s Cornfield with Cypress above. Color is not the only way Van Gogh gives depth to the painting, but notice how the colors add to the depth. The mountains, sky and clouds use cooler colors, while the cornfield uses warmer colors.


You might choose a warmer color for the type on top on an image to ensure it’s seen. Naturally it depends on the colors in the image as it will be more important to make sure the text color contrasts.


Darker colors tend to be seen first and carry more visual weight. A larger area of a lighter color is necessary to balance the visual weight.


Highly saturated colors (pure hues) are perceived as more dynamic. They attract attention. Too many saturated colors can compete and cause eye fatigue. Desaturated colors lend themselves to performance and efficiency. They might be a better choice to help people complete a specific task. Desaturated/Bright colors are perceived as friendly and professional. Desaturated/Dark colors are seen as serious and professional.


Be careful about using too many colors. You want to limit colors in the same way you limit fonts. You need enough to be able to offer contrast, but not too much to lack similarity. 5 colors is generally a good maximum, though you can use more. The more colors you use the harder it will be to use them effectively.

by Steven Bradley on

February 15, 2010
Archived in Web Design and tagged color


Written by

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