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  • Writer's pictureMark Zusmanovich

Colour / Color Issues

In this article, I'm going to tell you about my own ideas for dealing with the problems I've come across while working with global target audiences and their unique interpretations of colours.

We as human beings have the primitive ability to interpret colour meanings by the emotions we get when we see it.

In nature, most poisonous fruits are either red or yellow like Berries and European Spindle. Poisonous animals are usually marked with red and yellow colours like Death Stalker Scorpion, Brazilian Wandering Spider etc.

So colour interpretation is very important for our survival as humans, right?

Cultural Differences

Throughout history, every culture created its own interpretation of colours based on beliefs, religions, the local nature, weather and the general colours of the landscape like yellow deserts of snow-white mountains. The seasons made us interpret colours by their “warmth” so blue usually symbolizes cold while red and orange symbolize warmth.

The red colour in western civilization is interpreted completely different from the interpretation, it is given in the far east like China.

In China red is a colour of joy and good fortune so it’s used until today for weddings and holiday celebrations. Red is strictly forbidden at funerals as it is the colour of happiness.

Different cultures don’t even name the colours in the same way. In English, there are 11 words for colours while the Russian language has 12 (Light Blue = Galuboy).

In Chinese culture, black is the colour of heaven. This is why the black colour is interpreted to be a holy colour. Unlike the westerns that wear black for funerals, and white for weddings, the Chinese, on the other hand, wear black and red for weddings and white for funerals since white is interpreted in China as the colour of mourning.

Double Meaning

Different cultures interpret the same colour very differently, but this is just one of the problems.

We tend to interpret colours very differently from one another, even if two people from the same country or even the same city, could respond completely different to the same exact colour.

While some see green as the colour of growth, nature and prosperity, maybe even positivity, others may see it as the colour of greed. As a matter of fact, every colour has a mass variety of feelings and interpretations created by itself. The right use of the colour can get the right emotion triggered. A red dot has a different effect than a whole red background.

When we approach design, we must take into count so many variations to make it work. The culture it’s presented to, the different interpretations that specific colour produces and the right amount of it, the time and the placement it is going to appear in.

If our target audience is a Chinese man for example, and he’s going to see our ad on Facebook at 21:00 pm, we might want to use certain colours to talk in his language and make him feel as much home and comfort as we can.

Placement is one of the most important factors for choosing the right colours and if it’s really on Facebook, according to the previous example, there is a theory that says that colours that work best on Facebook are red-orange and yellow so if we are targeting China, we must investigate and be sure that the colours are used properly according to what our target audience feels about it.

For example, an ad that is completely red might reflect danger or high-energy or passion for a western, The same exact add is going to create feelings of joy and fortune in the far east.


The way I try to treat these interpretation problems is by playing with brightness and saturation until I manage to create a decent balance.

Much like in composition, there must be a balance in our colour saturation. If we use highly saturated, vivid red for a background, in most cases the content will drown in this background colour no matter what emotion we were trying to get, but if we use a little less saturated red and add a little bit of black for dark red, velvet or add white to make it pinkish, it will stand out less and the won’t steal as much of focus, but still will be able to provide some of the emotions, simple red would provide.

Usually, we even have to make our target audience feel a combination of a few emotions at once, but if we use red and green together in the same exact amount, they will probably fight each other for attention and the result will not be as pleasing, but if we take one of them get it darker or a little brighter and use less space with them, for example, instead of getting half-page red and half green, we would use a third of dark green and 2/3 of bright red, they will suddenly stop disturbing each other and start complementing the whole composition.

Actually one will make the other stand out while we will still have the emotions of both colours if we would like. If we have decided to use vivid saturated text, we must use either very dark or a very bright background colour.

When choosing a colour, we must take in count the feelings it provides for the specific target audience we are designing for. Otherwise, we could provide a completely different interpretation and a mistaken emotion, that not only will not be successful but will also anger our target audience and associate a feeling we never meant to be associated with.


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