The Meanings of Orange

Orange sunset and orange sports car

Orange is vibrant. It’s hot, healthy, fruity and engaging – but it can be abrasive and crass. It’s a polarizing color. People either love it or detest it.

Oranges fruitOrange is the only color of the spectrum whose name was taken from an object, the popular fruit - the orange. In nature it’s the color of vivid sunsets, fire, vegetables, flowers, fish, and many citrus fruits. In our contemporary world, orange is the color of marmalade, Halloween, traffic cones, life rafts, cheetos, and Halloween.

Orange symbolizes energy, vitality, cheer, excitement, adventure, warmth, and good health. However, pure orange can be brass; however, it may suggest a lack of serious intellectual values and bad taste.

Orange is currently a trendy, hip color. It was a “groovy color” back in the 70s and then it faded away. In 1991, an article in Forbes magazine about how orange affects consumer choices concluded that orange meant cheap. (Note: “Cheap” in this case meant a good buy for the money.)

It’s worth noting that there are many shades of orange – and different meanings. Some may be more appealing to those who find orange difficult: terracotta or cayenne – a dark orange, persimmon - a red-orange, pumpkin - a pure orange, mango - a yellow orange, salmon - a pink orange, melon - a light orange,.

6 oranges - terracotta, persimmon, pumpkin, mango, salmon, melon

Darker oranges offer a sense of comfort; some are spicy, some are earthy. Lighter oranges are soothing and healthy.

Global Meanings of Orange

Orange's global similarities are significant:

Orange evokes the taste of healthy fruits, bursting with juice.

Orange is associated with vitamin C and good health.

Orange is symbolic of autumn.

Children all over the world are drawn to orange.

Orange is the color of life rafts, hazard cones, and police vests.

Unique Meanings of Orange in Different Cultures

Orange is both the name and emblematic color of the royal family in the Netherlands.

Orange is the color of prison uniforms in the U.S.

Orange (saffron) is a sacred and auspicious color in Hinduism.

The middle traffic light is orange in France.

In the U.K., orange stands for the Northern Irish Protestants and has very strong religious and political significance.

Global Color data for consumer color symbolism

Designing with Orange

Orange is an excellent example of this design rule: There are no bad colors; only bad color combinations.

orange & blue
The complementary color scheme – orange and blue – is dynamic.


The triad color scheme – orange, green, and purple – is exceptional.

How Orange Affects Vision

Safety orange traffic cones and vest

“Safety orange” is used to set objects apart from their surroundings, particularly in complementary contrast to the azure color of the sky. It’s used for hunting and construction zone marking devices.

Myths about the Effects of Orange on the Body

Orange is used to increase immunity, to increase sexual potency, to help in all digestive ailments, chest and kidney diseases.

Tidbits – Points to Ponder

"Orange is red brought nearer to humanity by yellow." Wassily Kandinsky

Nothing rhymes with orange.


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The Meanings of Purple

Purple flower & purple electromagnetic energy

Purple’s rarity in nature and the expense of creating the color and has given purple a supernatural aura for centuries. Purple is also the most powerful wavelength of the rainbow – and it’s a color with a powerful history that has evolved over time. In fact, the origins of the symbolism of purple are more significant and interesting than those of any other color.

Purple flower

If we go back to our pre-historic existence, our ancestors probably never saw a purple fruit, flower, bird, fish - or any living thing - because purple is very rare in nature. This is hard to imagine in today’s connected world.

Purpura - murex shellfish, purple fabric, Roman emperor

As civilizations developed, so did clothing and colored dyes. The earliest purple dyes date back to about 1900 B.C. It took some 12,000 shellfish to extract 1.5 grams of the pure dye - barely enough for dying a single garment the size of the Roman toga. It’s no wonder then, that this color was used primarily for garments of the emperors or privileged individuals.

Over the course of history, purple pigments and dyes became less costly and complex, but one thing has remained the same: Purple symbolizes nobility and luxury to most people in the world.

Purple Electromagnetic Energy
Today, science has revealed much more about purple than our ancestors ever realized: Purple is the most powerful visible wavelength of electromagnetic energy.  It’s just a few steps away from x-rays and gamma rays. (See the chart here.) Perhaps this explains why purple is associated with supernatural energy and the cosmos than with the physical world as we know it.

Taking all aspects of purple’s past and present into consideration, purple symbolizes magic, mystery, spirituality, the sub-conscious, creativity, dignity, royalty – and it evokes all of these meanings more so than any other color.

Variations of purple convey different meanings: Light purples are light-hearted, floral, and romantic. The dark shades are more intellectual and dignified.

The negative meanings of purple are decadence, conceit, and pomposity. Purple is also a color of mourning.

One of the most significant aspects of purple’s symbolism is the generational divide. There’s a huge difference of opinions about purple. It all depends on age.

Barney, Tinky Winky, Yahoo - Purple is a happy color

Most young people view purple as a happy color. No baggage. Older adults view the color through a broader perspective. Furthermore, purple takes on new meanings in many cultures.

Global Meanings of Purple

Purple's global similarities are significant:

Purple tends to be a color that people either love or hate.

Among Mediterranean people, purple was reserved for emperors and popes. The Japanese christened it “Imperial Purple”

Purple is the color of mourning or death in many cultures (U.K., Italy, Thailand, Brazil)

Purple is not a common flag color. Only two flags contain purple.

Unique Meanings of Purple in Different Cultures

The “Purple Heart” is the American award for bravery.

Purple is a symbolic color for the gay community in many Western cultures.

Purple is the color of popular children's television characters – "Barney" and "Tinky Winky" (the purple Teletubby from the BBC).

In Italy most performing artists would not go on stage if they have to wear anything purple.

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Online learning from the author of Color Matters

Designing with Purple

The opposites of hot red and cool blue combine to create this intriguing color.

Blue-purple, Purple, Red-purple

There are three distinct purples: Red-Purple, Purple, Blue-Purple. Red-purples are warm, blue-purples are cool, and pure purple is neutral.

How Purple Affects Vision

Purple is the hardest color for the eye to discriminate.
Have some fun!: You won't believe your eyes: Watch the Lilac Chaser

Myths about the Effects of Purple on the Body

Purples have been used in the care of mental of nervous disorders because they have shown to help balance the mind and transform obsessions and fears.

Most psychologists view these claims with skepticism. No valid studies have been conducted to confirm them.

Tidbits – Points to Ponder

Roman emperors Julius Caesar and Augustus both decreed that only the Emperor could wear purple. When Nero became Emperor, the wearing of purple and even the sale of purple was punishable by death!

Wagner composed his greatest works in a room with purple draperies.

More about purple

One of the most powerful examples of purple is  the "Purple Pill."
See "Taking the Color of Medications Seriously."

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The Meanings of Blue

Blue Sky Ocean Birds

Blue is the favorite color of all people. It’s nature’s color for water and sky, but is rarely found in fruits and vegetables. Today, blue is embraced as the color of heaven and authority, denim jeans and corporate logos. It is cold, wet, and slow as compared to red’s warmth, fire, and intensity.

Blue has more complex and contradictory meanings than any other color.  These can be easily explained by pinpointing by the specific shade of blue.

Dark Blue - Bright Blue - Sky Blue - Light Blue

Dark blue: trust, dignity, intelligence, authority

Bright blue: cleanliness, strength, dependability, coolness
(The origin of these meanings arise from the qualities of the ocean and inland waters, most of which are more tangible.)

Light (sky) blue: peace, serenity, ethereal, spiritual, infinity
(The origin of these meanings is the intangible aspects of the sky.)

Most blues convey a sense of trust, loyalty, cleanliness, and understanding. On the other hand, blue evolved as symbol of depression in American culture. “Singing the blues” and feeling blue” are good examples of the complexity of color symbolism and how it has been evolved in different cultures.

Global Meanings of Blue

Blue Suit - Blue Jeans - Blue Burqa

Blue's global similarities are significant:

Blue is the #1 favorite color of all people.

53% of the flags in the world contain blue.
Blue is the most commonly used color in corporate identity.

A dark blue suit is professional business attire.

Blue jeans are worn all over the world.

Aristocracy is blue-blooded in all European languages.

Unique Meanings of Blue in Different Cultures

Greeks believe that blue wards off "the evil eye.

The English “to feel blue” has no equivalent in other languages while in German “blau sein” (literally: to be blue) means to be drunk or in Russian “голубой” (literally: light blue) means to be homosexual.

Dark blue is the color of mourning in Korea.

The god Krishna has blue skin.

Shades of blue are described as shallow or deep instead of light or dark in China.

Blue is for a baby girl; pink for a baby boy in Belgium.

“Prince Charming” is called “The Blue Prince” in Italy and Spain.

Designing with Blue

Blue ranks so high as a favorite color that you can’t go wrong if you use blue. However, blue can be over-used and may wind up a design cliché if used alone. Combining blue with another color creates a more creative effect.

Blue is the only color which maintains its own character in all its tones... it will always stay blue;” Raoul Dufy, French Fauvist Painter, 1877-1953

from Color Matters

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How Blue Affects Vision

Blue is sharply refracted by the eyes. This causes the lens to flatten and to push the blue image back. We perceive that blue areas are receding and smaller.

The same refraction causes visual fog if used excessively in interior spaces.

 Myths about the Effects of Blue on the Body

Does blue cause depression?Unfortunately, there are many “pseudo studies” that suggest that blue rooms can calm or depress people. Under closer scrutiny none of these have stood up. However, there’s lots of money to be made telling people otherwise.

Some Truths about the Effects of Blue

Blue has very few connections to taste or smell. Therefore it may act as an appetite suppressant. (Find out more about how blue affects appetite at  Color & Appetite Matters)

Tidbits – Points to Ponder

Supposing the color blue was removed from the world, specifically the sea and sky ... what color would fill the void?

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Curious Yellow

Yellow sun

Have you noticed that yellow is often missing in action in the colorful offerings of kitchen appliances and electronic devices?  Aside from the nano-chromatic yellow iPod and the sunny yellow George Foreman grill,  the range of colors for laptops, cell phones, cameras kitchen appliances, and much more has not included yellow. (And that included the first generation of the trend-setting iMacs.)

Curious, indeed, and especially so since over 80% of people around the globe say that yellow is the color that represents happiness. (per the Global Color Survey) .

Perhaps the truth of the matter is that the positive power of yellow is in the mind and not in practice. In other words, it’s a color we all love (symbolically), but do not choose to live with.

Could it be that yellow really triggers eyesore images of Subway restaurants and garish yellow fire trucks (in the same sense that sleazy motel carpets and goblins generate the gag reflex of green)?  Maybe yellow is just stuck in the fluffy terrain of daffodils, daisies, rubber ducks, and lemon meringue pie?

Do you wear yellow? Many claim that it washes them out and makes them look sickly and sallow. Yes, the wrong shade of yellow does pose problems.

Even though Pantone designated a bright yellow - "Mimosa" - as the color of the year 2009, it came and went without leaving much of an impact. The last time that yellow had any staying power was with the harvest gold appliances of the 70s.

As for brand identity, some very interesting things have been happening. Of note, Sprint and Nikon have embraced yellow for their new logos. In other contemporary arenas, yellow has emerged as the color of cancer awareness and Lance Armstrong.  

We must remember that our reactions to color are culturally specific. However, there is a global reaction to yellow that’s grounded in how our eyes perceive color: Yellow captures attention faster than any other color of the spectrum. Therefore, you won’t miss an advertisement for a yellow car and you won’t miss a yellow car on the highway. In fact, peripheral vision for detecting yellows is 1.24 times greater than for red.

In conclusion, some thoughts to ponder:
Van Gogh called yellow “'a color capable of charming God.” However, Russians use the colloquial expression “yellow house” for an insane asylum. Perhaps, Dylan summed it up when he said, “The sun isn't yellow, it's chicken.”


 More about Yellow

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The Meanings of Red


Red is the color of extremes. It’s the color of passionate love, seduction, violence, danger, anger, and adventure. Our prehistoric ancestors saw red as the color of fire and blood – energy and primal life forces – and most of red’s symbolism today arises from its powerful associations in the past.

Red is also a magical and religious color. It symbolized super-human heroism to the Greeks and is the color of the Christian crucifixion. Red was almost as rare and as expensive as purple in ancient days – a fact that may explain its magic and power. Paradoxically, today’s intense red dyes come from crushed insects (the lac beetle and the cochineal).

Global Meanings of Red

Red’s global similarities are significant:

Red is one of the top two favorite colors of all people.

Red is the most popular color used on flags in the world. Approximately 77% of all flags include red.

Red is the international color for stop.

Red districts sell sex and pornography in every European culture.

The history of languages reveals that red is the first color after black and white. (All languages have words for black and white. If a third hue exists, it is red.)

Unique Meanings of Red in Different Cultures

Red Bridal Wear - Asia

Red is the color of good luck in Asia and is the most popular color in China.

Most Japanese children draw the sun as a big red circle.

In East Asian stock markets, red is used to denote a rise in stock prices. (Note: In North American stock markets, red is used to denote a drop in stock prices.)

Red is an auspicious color for marriage. Brides in India and Nepal wear red saris; in Japan, a red kimono symbolizes happiness and good luck.


 Color Symbolism

Designing with Red

All reds are not created equal. Aside from light and dark shades of red, there are two kinds of red:

Tomato red and Berry red
Yellow-based reds are “tomato” reds. Blue-based reds are “berry reds.” Some say that males are more attracted to the tomato reds: females to the berry reds.


Context is everything when using red. For example, when red is place on a black background, it glows with an otherworldly fire; on a white background, red appears somewhat duller; in contrast with orange, red appears lifeless. Notice that the red square appears larger on black.

Regardless of how it is used in a design, a little bit of red goes a long way.

How Red Affects Vision

Red Fire Engine

Red captures attention. It is one of the most visible colors, second only to yellow - which explains why it is used on fire engines and stop signs to trigger alertness.

Red focuses behind the retina which forces the lens grows more convex to pull it forward. Therefore, we perceive that red areas are moving forward. This may explain why red captures attention.

Note: Eight percent of the male population has a red-green color vision deficiency and cannot see red at all

Myths about Red

“They” claim that red raises your blood pressure and quickens your heartbeat. Yes, red is a strong color but its immediate effects are only temporary and do not apply to everyone.

Tidbits - Points to Ponder

In Russia, the word for "red" means beautiful.

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