colour & design surgery…how does culture influence colour?

Newsletter - 2011 August - colours in culture chart section. This opens a new browser window.

This is part of the colour & design surgery series, answering questions from clients and readers.

Question: “How is colour understood differently in different cultures?”
– reader, Melissa Lessi.

Answer: Great question. Colours are understood differently in different cultures because of the association, the meaning those colours have within that culture. Sometimes these associations have gained significance over many generations, if not hundreds of years. Often the original reason may no longer be known, slipping into folklore.

Giving meaning or association to a colour is our human way of seeking meaning within our environment, usually formed out of religious beliefs or from nature.

This is commonly known as colour symbolism, colour meaning or colour association.

Newsletter - 2011 August - colours in culture chart. This opens a new browser window.

examples of colour symbolism
As you will see by clicking on the Colours in Culture chart above, different cultures use different colours to symbolism the same association.  Interestingly, the colours will often be its complementary opposite.

good luck
red – China, Eastern European, Africa
green – Western, Japan, Muslim

black – Western, Japan, Native American
white – China, Hindu

purple – Japan, Hindu
brown – Native American
blue – Eastern Europe

colour scheme

When creating a colour scheme for a client, it is important to understand the significance of those colours in relation to their ethnicity and their target market.

colour psychology
Whilst colour symbolism is a conditioned conscious association to colour, the psychology of any particular colour is largely unconscious.  And whilst the psychological meaning of any given colour universally holds true, cultural associations may significantly influence colour choices.

If you enjoyed reading this article, you may also like to read other articles on colour symbolism.

Images from Information is Beautiful

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