The first and perhaps most important thing to understand about the meaning of colour is that there is no verified evidence that supports a universal system of colour meaning. It’s not that colours themselves have specific meaning, but rather that we have culturally assigned meanings to them.
While some colour symbolism exists world-wide (red as the colour of a stop sign, yellow for caution), colour 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 colour.
The above means that it’s important to understand who your target audience is and how your audience attaches meaning to colour. Again it’s not that a colour has a specific meaning on its own. It’s that we’ve culturally assigned meaning to colours. Keep that in mind as you decide on a colour scheme.
Warm Colours: For the sake of simplicity let’s define warm colours as red, orange and yellow. These are the colours of fire. They radiate warmth. Warm colours 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 Colours: Again for the sake of simplicity let’s define cool colours as green, blue, and violet. These are the colours of water. Cool colours 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.
Red: is the colour 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 action.
Yellow: is the colour 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: is the colour 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 colour. 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: 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 autumn and harvest.
Green: is the colour of nature. It symbolizes growth, hope, freshness, and fertility. In countries with green money 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 colour 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 colour 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. So use with care.
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.
Grey: is the colour of sorrow, detachment, and isolation. It connotes responsibility and conservative practicality. It’s a neutral colour 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 colour and to emphasize a willingness to comply. Some people who prefer grey might be seen as the lone wolf type or narrow-minded.
Brown: is the colour 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.