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Color, Theme, Mood, and Message

Cool Warm

Color functions on many levels. It is endowed with cultural and literal meanings. Color resonates with both emotion and logic. Humans have conscious and subconscious reactions to color. As a result, careful and judicious use of color on the World Wide Web is required.

Color can be separated into different categories. Among the most basic categories are warm and cool. Warm colors include red, yellow, and orange. Cool colors include blue, purple, and green. You can se of either of these color categories can help determine the “feel” of a site.

Color also has representational elements to it. For instance, if we ask a group of people to name colors that they think of when they hear the word “forest,” they are likely to respond with green, brown, and gray. However, in the autumn they might also add orange and yellow to their list. It is no surprise to discover that grocery stores often decorate their interiors in shades of green, tan, and yellow. These colors are associated with food. Aside from eggplant and some grapes, there are few examples of purple food, so that color is rarely seen in grocery décor.

The flag of the United States

Other colors convey more direct messages. Many colors are associated with countries. The phrase “Old Red, White, and Blue” usually refers to the flag of the United States. On the other hand, green has extremely strong associations with Ireland, as suggested by the term "Emerald Isle."



Green English BRM race car

An example of color association comes from the world of automobile racing. Until the mid-1960s, automobiles on the Formula One racing circuit were painted in national colors. Italian cars were red, English cars were a particular shade called British Racing Green, French cars were blue, and German race cars were silver. The photograph on the right is a BRM race car from Great Britain.

The cultural significance of color is particularly interesting. How we react to color and how we interpret it is often based on our cultural background. For instance, in Western countries, white is often used to represent purity and is the traditional color for wedding dresses. But in some parts of the world wearing a white wedding dress would be considered a serious breech of etiquette because white has negative connotations.


An excellent example of how color use is, in part, culturally oriented can be observed by how red is used around the world.







Chinese temple with red features

In some Asian countries is red considered a good luck color. It is used on many important buildings, especially temples and shrines.





Workers wearing red safety vests

In Western culture red is a color used for warning purposes. Red is the color for stop signs and markings signifying a dangerous area. It is also used as an "alerting" color. Workers performing a hazardous task wear it. Red is a common color for highway construction safety vests and life jackets.




Red barn and other farm buildings

In the United States and Canada red is the traditional color for barns and other farm out buildings. But not necessarily so in other countries. In some parts of Europe white is a common barn color.





Red London Bus in front of the Parliament buildings

Red is so strongly associated with London double-decker busses that the origin of the photograph on the right would be instantly recognized all over the world. There is very little indication, other than the bus, of the location. Yet, most people would guess that the picture was taken in London.





Red Ford Thunderbird

At the same time, a car with red paint is recognized as being “sporty.” An example is the two-seater Ford Thunderbird on the right.





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