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.

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Cultural Influences Connected to Color

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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About the Author

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, LinkedIn Learning, 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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