Color, Color Theory

What is Color? Color Theory? Do I perceive color in the same way as others who lived in different historical periods or cultures? Review related research and scholarship.

What is Color? Color Theory?

Color, from the perspective of Writing Studies, is a design element that can be used in texts/compositions for rhetorical purposes.

Color is a semiotic system: users read color just as they read alphabetical texts.

Color Theory is scholarship and research on color and its role in communication. An ongoing argument among theorists is whether or not all people across the globe perceive color in a shared, universal way.

Related Concepts: Gestalt, Gestalt Theory; Space


Writers, speakers, knowledge workers . . . use color and color theory to attract attention to certain aspects of a text. Contrasting colors in a composition can be used to group (aka chunk) related content elements. Thus, color can be used to organize content.

Remix of Charles Blanc’s 1865 color star. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported 

What is the Grammar of Color?

Color theorists debate whether or not humans across the globe perceive color in the same, universal way or if the use of color is shaped by culture. One interesting empirical observation in this scholarly conversation is that anthropologists have found cultures that have no words for color (Jones 2017). These findings add substantive evidence to the argument that the perception and signification of color is cultural construct.

There is, in fact, quite a bit of evidence to suggest that color tends to denote different things in different cultures. People in the western world, for instance, may associate the color red with with anger, violence, bloodshed whereas people in the easy may associate red for communism, love, and good fortune.