Cultural Influences Connected to Color

Did you know that cultural influences connected to color can influence our perception? Our location, religion, sex — even how we are raised — can affect how we perceive color. Culture and our ethnic backgrounds each have unique aspects and traditions. Even in similar rituals, color will hold different meanings across the world. It can be as drastic as a negative versus a positive meaning.

Color provides both psychological and visual information. Cultural influences that affect color’s meaning can shift the context of your message and brand perception. Graphic designers, artists, and marketers often use color to influence the user, but it’s important to be aware of the cultural associations that color may have.


Cultural Influences Connected to Color

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A great example of cultural influences connected to color is seen in funerals. In both Japan and China, white is used at funerals — a sharp contrast to black, which represents mourning in the western world. How about a joyous occasion like a wedding… did you know that wearing white wasn’t a tradition? White dresses were used in weddings only after Queen Victoria used it in hers. Back then not everyone could afford to keep a white dress clean, so at first this tradition was only carried on by the wealthy. Over the years it became common in many cultures. However, in most of Asia, red is a color of prosperity, and mainly used in weddings. In fact, most Indian brides dress solely in red on their wedding day.

Several Middle Eastern countries, consider blue to be a protective color and it’s often used in front doors to ward off evil spirits. In the Southeast regions people paint porch swings to keep ghosts at bay. Now in France, back in the tenth-century, the homes of robbers, traitors and felons were painted yellow. This was linked to a medieval inspiration where sunshine was seen as the best disinfectant.

When it comes to religion, color can yet again hold different meanings and even symbolism. Green is the color of Islam. While for Christianity, Green was once banned because it was used in early pagan ceremonies, and it wasn’t until Pope Innocent III that green was reintroduced. In Judaism, sky blue and white symbolize heaven and earth. Blue is also linked to immortality in China, and connects to Krishna in Hinduism.


Color connected to safety codes

While there are cultural influences connected to color, we can also see these connected to safety codes. Organizations like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), have used specific colors as warning symbols. In OSHA standards, yellow is designated for school buses. This is because it’s visible, and actually one of the first colors you see. Red is associated with danger and is used as emergency stop buttons, exit signs, and fire protection equipment.


The meaning behind a color can shift

The meaning behind a color can evolve throughout time — depending on cultural and social shifts. Green was once seen as an unfavorable color. In the fashion industry, it was once named as poisoned green (due to the arsenic-based pigment it used that caused several deaths). But the color was later revived into the industry. In 2017 Pantone named “Greenery” the color of the year. This was due to reflect our current cultural shift towards a more sustainable and healthy life-style.

Cultural influences connected to color can affect the perception of a brand, and because color is registered more profoundly than any other element of branding, knowing the who you are trying to reach is crucial in making the right color selection.

You may not have the time to research what color trends are, what emotions they can evoke, which are working or worth implementing, make sure you download Nicte Creative Design’s Annual 2017 Color Trends Guidebook.

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Nicte Creative Design
Nicte Cuevas, Principal of Nicte Creative Design, empowers mission-driven businesses through strategic design & branding. Nicte has applied this when working with Adobe Spark and Twitter Business, Dogs on Deployment and Purina, Girl Scouts, The Houston Zoo and The Contemporary Arts Museum. Her excellence in communication design & marketing has been recognized by multiple national / international awards, including a coveted feature in Graphic Design USA's People to Watch.

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