The Meanings of Yellow

Yellow - Nature & Today

Yellow is the most luminous of all the colors of the spectrum. It’s the color that captures our attention more than any other color.

In the natural world, yellow is the color of sunflowers and daffodils, egg yolks and lemons, canaries and bees. In our contemporary human-made world, yellow is the color of Sponge Bob, the Tour de France winner’s jersey, happy faces, post its, and signs that alert us to danger or caution.

It’s the color of happiness, and optimism, of enlightenment and creativity, sunshine and spring.

Lurking in the background is the dark side of yellow: cowardice, betrayal, egoism, and madness. Furthermore, yellow is the color of caution and physical illness (jaundice, malaria, and pestilence). Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the sources of yellow pigments are toxic metals - cadmium, lead, and chrome - and urine.

Global Meanings of Yellow

Yellow's global similarities are significant:

In almost every culture yellow represents sunshine, happiness, and warmth.

Yellow is the color most often associated with the deity in many religions (Hinduism and Ancient Egypt)

Yellow is the color of traffic lights and signs indicating caution all over the world.

Unique Meanings of Yellow in Different Cultures

In Japan, yellow often represents courage.

In China, adult movies are referred to as yellow movies.

In Russia, a colloquial expression for an insane asylum used to be "yellow house."

Bright “marigold” yellow may be associated with death in some areas of Mexico.

Those condemned to die during the Inquisition wore yellow as a sign of treason.

A yellow patch was used to label Jews in the Middle Ages. European Jews were forced to wear yellow or yellow “Stars of David” during the Nazi era of prosecution.


Designing with Yellow

3 Yellows

Although there are strong mustard yellows and deep yellow ochres, there are no dark yellows.

When you add black to yellow you get gunky dirty green

Yellow is the only color that reacts badly to black: Add a little black and it becomes a sickly yellow-green.

How Yellow Affects Vision


Visibility of Yellow

Yellow is the most visible color of the spectrum.

The human eye processes yellow first. This explains why it is used for cautionary signs and emergency rescue vehicles.

Peripheral vision is 2.5 times higher for yellow than for red.

Yellow has a high light reflectance value and therefore it acts as a secondary light source.  Excessive use of bright yellow (such as on interior walls) can irritate the eyes.

Myths About the Effects of Yellow

It is not true that babies cry more in yellow rooms, or that yellow causes diarrhea, or that husbands and wives fight more in yellow kitchens.

Tidbits - Points to Ponder

U.S. law prohibits coloring margarine to look like butter.

More about Yellow:

Does yellow taste sour?
How Color Affects Taste and Smell

Why Are School Buses Yellow?

Could mellow yellow be the color of insanity?

Curious Yellow

Also ...
Explore the meanings of more colors!

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