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Color as Meaning

Lesson 26 from: Graphic Design Fundamentals

Timothy Samara

Color as Meaning

Lesson 26 from: Graphic Design Fundamentals

Timothy Samara

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Lesson Info

26. Color as Meaning

Lesson Info

Color as Meaning

Up until now we've been talking mostly about the optical qualities of color. How to create a compelling experience and how to make them look nice. But we can also talk about using color for meaning. So you can use color to code things. Like different kinds of, different versions or variations of a product in a line of products. Like different flavors, different scents, different functionalities. Shampoo versus conditioner versus moisturizer. Or exfoliant versus something else. And you can also color code different product ranges. As is happening here in these brochure covers for a home builder. A kind of design build company that produces custom homes. But sort of geared towards different sorts of styles. In which the blue-ness is being associated with French and the red terra cotta-ness is being associated with Mediterranean. But the same two colors are being used in both pieces, just at different levels of intensity. Color comes with associated psychological responses that people hav...

e an emotional response to color. Which is very much wrapped up in one specific cultural background and also in personal experience. While there are some baseline, sort of general and relatively reliable assumptions you can make about how people will respond emotionally to color, it's really a kind of a dangerous game to play. Because between the color of the culture of the specific audience you're talking to as well as their own personal experiences, sometimes that color psychology is likely to shift a little bit. Aside from those. But here's a kind of selection of the sort of basic primary, secondary, and tertiary hues. As well as the neutrals and black and white with some description of generally the cultural associations of those colors in the western world. And here's just to kind of, an example of sort of, two examples where you can see some of the color ideas, the psychology being sort of brought to bear. One for an, actually their both album covers. No, one's an album cover and the other one is a brochure for a hotel. With the mood of each piece is so radically different. Primarily because of the color psychology in effect. Color can affect our perception of language. So when you apply color to type it will change the meaning. Sometimes using sort of intuitively the opposite color of the intended verbal or conceptual affect can be very, very powerful. As in the case here where the word "quiet" or the idea of quiet, the perception of quiet-ness, actually increases by setting the type in an intense and very dark value. Orange. Color has associations that are kind of universal. If I were to ask you, "Which one of these dots "is the earth and which one is the sun?", I'm sure you would all give me the same answer. Without any question. You have to be careful about how you apply color. Or how you alter the color of elements in photography. Especially when the photography is presenting food or people. Because some color shifts, especially towards the green range will cause food to look rotten or people to look sick, sickly, or dead. And last, culture assigns meanings to color for us. We encounter colors in the context of different kinds of experiences. And so very often there are conventions that a designer has to be aware of with regard to what kinds of colors or palettes to be looking at when they're trying to communicate on behalf of a client in a particular industry. Or they're trying to evoke a particular time period or a particular cultural area in the world or if they're talking about a particular kind of product area in particular. So here's a kind of a set of palettes that are really just kind of distillations of colors that are most commonly found in communications in particular kinds of context. So for example, moods are here, refreshing, artificial, organic and elegant, and romantic and comical and friendly and urban. Here we have a split, here are cultural regions. Africa, South America, the Middle East and Japan. Verus seasons, Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. Here we have time periods and art movements. From art nouveau to the swinging 60's to new age millennials. Teens versus young or mature adults. And then a variety of industries. Men's grooming, women's luxury apparel, pharmaceuticals, automotive, electronics and gaming, traditional bath accessories. And so on. And if you were to do a kind of a comprehensive survey, yes you would find some variation within that field. But for the most part if you were to put the branding elements or the advertising or the websites of 50 or 100 companies within this particular sector of that industry, you would notice they would pretty much all have the same color feeling, within reason. So the convention can be very, very useful so that you are sure that you're using color in an appropriate way that will resonate with the audience in a way that they kind of expect. But they can also be dangerous and a little bit limiting. Because if the color palette does actually respect that convention too closely, it may be likely that the communication will kind of get lost in the competition. So sometimes fighting against that convention by going for orange in a bath environment or for bath products, could be and interesting possibility. But with every kind of change or any kind of attempt to break a rule if you will, you're gonna gain something and you're gonna sacrifice something. And you have to be kind of certain what it is that you're gaining is actually more valuable than what you're loosing. So color can be really, really profound in terms of adding additional meaning to form and image elements for typography and for overall optical experience.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with RSVP

Syllabus - Graphic Design Fundamentals.pdf

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Ad+Poster-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Book+Web--Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Color-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Form+Image-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Identity-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Intro-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Layout-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Typography-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf

Ratings and Reviews


This is more about all of your courses - It would be really nice for instructors to answer questions during break times or even after the class. There a lot a fabulous questions that I see that never get answered. I would like to go back even the next day and see a short note for at least some of those questions. Just an idea to help out this wonderful format that you have going. I am sure to make use of the promote question when I see an interesting one.


I LOVED this class! I learned so much and since I had the foresight to purchase it, I can go back for a refresher anytime I want. Plus, the downloads are spectacular! Almost a book's worth and so helpful! Thank you Timothy, you are great teacher!

a Creativelive Student

This was an outstanding course, would love to see a more in depth typography course from this guy. I'm a proffesional photographer with a formal education in design, I hardly ever use it, so I forget things, this was great both as a review, and to pinpoint things I didn't know or thought I knew. thanks once again! well done!!

Student Work