The Psychology of Color

John MarstrellDesign

The Psychology of Color

Every color has its unique tones and meanings. By carefully selecting your colors, you can reinforce the overall message of a site.

Note: Color meanings can vary dramatically across cultures and regions. The following descriptions hold mostly for the United States.


This vibrant, aggressive color can convey a variety of meanings depending on context, but it does it all with power and flair. Combine it with black for a masculine, aggressive feel perfect for a sports car. Pair it with whites and golds, and it speaks of love and passion. Red also represents danger—think stop signs—and blood—think The Red Cross.


Warm, but less aggressive than red, orange is hard to miss—which explains its use in construction, safety, and hunting equipment. It also practically screams fall, pumpkins, and Halloween. Orange’s warmth can evoke a fun and energetic atmosphere.


Yellow represents the sun, warmth, and summertime. It’s also the most visible color on the spectrum, so it really jumps out at you. It’s especially eye-catching when combined with white or black, as it is in safety equipment, school buses, and taxis. Be careful with it, though, as many people it irritating.


Blue evokes the celestial, the tropical, and—oddly—the professional. Given its long association with water, we we think of blue as refreshing and cleansing. Darker shades of blue, however, can invoke sadness. There’s a reason we call it “the blues,” after all.


As the color of most plant life, green conveys a sense of growth and health, making it perfect for organic, environmentally friendly, and healthy products. Combine it with blues and browns to capture nature. Green also represents wealth and finance in the U.S.


You won’t see much brown on the web, probably because it implies dirtiness. But it’s perfect if you’re looking to create a sense of earthiness and luxury, perhaps for a sophisticated fashion site.


In ancient Rome, only the rich could afford purple (the dye was made from snail shells). That association remains strong all these centuries later, making purple an ideal hue for luxury brands. When combined with red, it can feel intimate and romantic. With whites and pinks, it becomes playful and child-like.


White is all about purity, innocence, and sterility. You’ll see it in sites focused on weddings, healthcare, science, and spirituality. It also connotes a sense of cleanliness and freshness, like freshly laundered and folded sheets.


Black implies strength, luxury, evil, death, and the unknown. The battle between good and evil is represented as white versus black—just look at Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker’s usual costumes.