Color – Color Theory

Audiences read color just as they read alphabetical texts.Learn how colors evoke the emotions and attention of readers so you can design works that communicate your intentions or understand how others are attempting to manipulate your emotions.

"Color-theory" by wowmakers is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

What is Color?

Color is a design element that writers, speakers, knowledge workers use to communicate. Colors evoke emotions, positive and negative connotations, and the attention of audience. When colors are mispaired, they can confuse and even alienate users.

Color is a quality of light. When light shines on something, colors reflect off the object.

What is Color Theory?

Color Theory is an academic field of study that explores the use of color across cultures and the psychological connotations of colors.

Related Concepts: Gestalt, Gestalt Theory; Space


Why Does Color Matter?

Writers, speakers, knowledge workers . . . use color

  • to attract attention to certain aspects of a text
  • to organize or chunk related content elements.

Mismatched colors create a lack of harmony and disrupt interpretation of texts.

Why Does Color Theory Matter?

Declarative knowledge about color theory can help you make wise design choices. Scholarship on color theory provides you with a perspective about how other cultures, discourse communities, use color.

Color Wheel

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

Research & Scholarship on Color Theory

One example of a scholarly conversation on color theory is whether or not people across the globe perceive color in a shared, universal way. Another topic is whether people in different historical periods perceive color differently.

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.

Recommended Readings

  • The Fundamentals of Color Theory. (n.d.). Retrieved February 18, 2022, from https://99designs.com/blog/tips/the-7-step-guide-to-understanding-color-theory/