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           Color is the vocabulary with which designers craft poetry, and even compared to space and texture, color is the most powerful tool used in design. Whether you’re interested in design, make a living of it, or just enjoy decorating your own home, you are probably already intimately familiar with influence color holds. The ability of color to affect mood and even performance has been scientifically proven as well. One such study found that using colored walls in an elementary classroom reduced blood pressure in students and lessened off-task behaviors by 22 percent [1]. This is a perfect example of the well-known power that color holds. The common effects of specific colors are also often studied, but not completely understood. The reason for this is the subjective nature of color, examined more closely in the following paragraphs.

            Most people have a favorite color, and anyone can decide whether they like or dislike one. How a person reacts to a color is determined mostly by what a person associates with it. After all, colors are simply different wavelengths of light, and don’t communicate any information on their own. Someone may like yellow because it makes them think of sunflowers, or avoid it because it reminds them of school. Red might remind an athlete of danger, and even cause them to act less aggressively in a match, as seen a 2008 study [2]. These associations can affect how we feel while looking at a color, and in turn influence our emotions and performance.

           Associations can also change, based on context. The same brown that might be mouth-watering in a chocolate commercial might also be found on a banana, signaling over-ripeness. This is supported by a Chinese study comparing test results affected by red and green 2x2 papers. Two groups were tested, one made up of college students, and one made up of stock brokers. Because the association of red=wrong answers, and green=right, college students with a red card got lower scores. However, stock brokers scored higher with the red card because of their profession. In stocks, red indicated a profitable rising market, and green indicated a failing falling market. [3] The differing associations of red and green affected the performance of the two groups in opposite ways. This shows not only how powerful color can be, but also how it can take differing meanings based on the context.

           In design, these associations can be used as tools. Associations can be intentionally created in order to change how a color feels. For example, placing coral next to a blue wall would invoke images of the ocean. Something similar to this was done in a recent study where researchers were able to measure and influence a person’s like or dislike for a patch of color by showing them a group of images that contained positive or negative photos of that color. For example, a group was shown a collection of images with 20 neutral images, 10 positive red images (ex. strawberries, roses), and 10 negative green images (ex. pond scum, moldy food). They rated the colors before and after the test, disguised as unrelated experiments, and the findings showing that their color tastes could be influenced [4]. This proved that associations made with color can be influenced intentionally. A designer can harness, strengthen or change the power of a color by understanding the associations that come along with it.


Dec 14, 2017 by Regina Salvador


Red is the color of power. The most of the studies found in researching color were done on red, because it had such a striking ability to affect people. Red can warm up a room as bring attention to something. In sports, winners statistically wear red [2]. It is a strong choice that has the potential to both invigorate and intimidate, so be sure your intention is clear when using red!

Aesthetic Associations: Fire, Energy, Sunset, Warmth, Holidays, Ruby, Romance, Fruit


Blue is a cool color, and is ever-popular. In fact, blue is the most common favorite color around the world [5]. That means it’s hard to go wrong with blue, especially if you’re looking for a crowd-pleaser, or decorating a space that will need to be appealing for lots of people.

Aesthetic Associations: Ocean, Water, Calm, Sky, Mountains, Sapphire


Green is the color of the earth. Bringing green into a home can create a natural feeling room and is essential for any outdoor lovers, whether it be in potted plants or on the walls. There’s a reason people love to exercise in nature, when a treadmill might be more convenient. In a study comparing how color affects exercise, green was found to make those participating feel more positive and less fatigued [6].

Aesthetic Associations: Plants, Sea Glass, Cash, Shamrocks, Emerald, Night-vision, Technology


Yellow can both brighten and pop, and is another color that can bring warmth to a room. However, it’s not a very popular color. In fact, it’s the color that is least likely to be someone’s favorite [5]. However, those who like yellow seem to have a huge preference for it, while most people prefer their favorite color only slightly more. Passionate yellow-lovers are going to appreciate yellow’s ability to energize and lighten.

Aesthetic Associations: Happiness, Sun, Light, Summer, Flowers, Bees


Brown is the color beneath all of our toes, at least theoretically. This color is both warm and neutral, and gives off a sense of security. Some credit brown’s recent popularity to the rise in coffee culture [8]. Colors like mocha and java remind us of the warm, heavy smell of a cup of caffeine. The earth-tones are also very natural for those with an affinity for the outdoors.

Aesthetic Associations: Earth, Coffee, Chocolate, Wood


Black is an extremely strong color. In beginning art classes, teachers often tell students not to shade with the color black because of how dark it is. However, this richness is why black is naturally the color of luxury, especially when paired with gold. These colors go so well together in fact, that black is the easiest to project yellow onto and make it read as gold [10].

Aesthetic Associations: Night, Black Sand, Elegance, Mystery


White isn’t just a blank canvas. White comes across as fresh and clean, although most know to avoid it in high-traffic areas because of how well it shows dirt. In Western cultures, white symbolizes purity and innocence. Since white is so neutral, it can be used in a multitude of situations. However, in many Eastern cultures it is the color of mourning [9]. This is important to keep in mind if decorating with a traditional eastern influence.

Aesthetic Associations: Clouds, Linen, Snow, Chalk, Milk, Purity


Pink is so in style! Pink is a calming color, often used in jails and hospitals to keep things relaxed. This cheery color also often used as a metaphor for optimism in languages all over the world [7]. Phrases such as, ‘rosy outlook,’ ‘tickled pink,’ and ‘pink-colored lenses’ are just a few examples of those in English. Bringing pink to a room means bringing happiness to those inside of it.

Aesthetic Associations: Love, Shells, Flowers, Femininity, Candy, Youth


[1] GRUBE, KATHRYN. 2013. "The Color on the Wall." American School & University 86, no. 3: 219-221. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed December 7, 2017).

[2] Elkan, Daniel. 2009. "The psychology of colour: Why winners wear red." New Scientist 203, no. 2723: 42-45. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed December 7, 2017).

[3] Zhang, Tengxiao, and Buxin Han. 2014. "Experience Reverses the Red Effect among Chinese Stockbrokers." Plos ONE 9, no. 2: 1-4. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed December 7, 2017).

[4] Strauss, Eli, Karen Schloss, and Stephen Palmer. 2013. "Color preferences change after experience with liked/disliked colored objects." Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 20, no. 5: 935-943. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed December 7, 2017).

[5] Morin, Amy. 2014. "How To Use Color Psychology To Give Your Business An Edge." Forbes. (accessed December 7, 2017).Akers, Adam, Jo Barton, Rachel Cossey, Patrick Gainsford, Murray Griffin, and Dominic Micklewright. 2012. "Visual Color Perception in Green Exercise: Positive Effects on Mood and Perceived Exertion." Environmental Science & Technology 46, no. 16: 8661-8666. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed December 7, 2017).

[6] Akers, Adam, Jo Barton, Rachel Cossey, Patrick Gainsford, Murray Griffin, and Dominic Micklewright. 2012. "Visual Color Perception in Green Exercise: Positive Effects on Mood and Perceived Exertion." Environmental Science & Technology 46, no. 16: 8661-8666. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed December 10, 2017).

[7] Kalay-Shahin, Lior, Allon Cohen, Rachel Lemberg, Gil Harary, and Thalma E. Lobel. 2016. "Seeing the World Through "Pink-Colored Glasses": The Link Between Optimism and Pink." Journal Of Personality 84, no. 6: 726-736. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed December 7, 2017).Brooker, Alice, and Anna

[8] Kirby, Jason. 2010. "How now, brown car?." Maclean's 123, no. 50: 42. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed December 7, 2017).

[9] Cherry, Kendra. 2017. "Color Psychology: Does It Affect How You Feel? How Colors Impact Moods, Feelings, and Behaviors." (accessed December 7, 2017).

[10] Tanaka, Midori, and Takahiko Horiuchi. 2017. "Perception of gold materials by projecting a solid color on black materials." Color Research & Application 42, no. 4: 522-530. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed December 7, 2017).

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