100 Things You Should Know About People: #51 — You React To Colors Based On Your Culture

US Map with ColorsMany years ago I worked with a client who had created a color map of the different business regions for their business, showing the total revenue for the quarter for each region. Yellow was for the Eastern part of the US, green for the Central, etc. They had used red for the western states. The VP of Sales gets to the podium and starts his slide show to the financial and accounting staff of the company. Up comes the colored map. A gasp can be heard in the auditorium, and then there is the buzz of urgent conversation. The VP tries to continue his talk, but he has lost everyone’s attention. They are all talking amongst themselves. Finally someone blurts out, “What the heck is going on in the West?!” “What do you mean?”, the VP asks, “Nothing is going on. They had a great quarter”.

What does red mean? — To an accountant or financial person red is a bad thing. It means that they are losing money. The presenter had to explain that they had just picked red as a random color.

Colors have associations and meanings — Red means “in the red” or financial trouble, or it could mean danger. Green means money, or “go”. You want to pick colors carefully since they have these meanings.

Color meanings change by culture — Some colors have similar meanings everywhere, for example, gold stands for success and high quality in most cultures, but most colors have different meanings in different cultures. For example, in the US, white stands for purity and is used at weddings, but in other cultures white is the color used for death and funerals. David McCandless of Informationisbeautiful.net has a color chart that  shows how different colors are viewed by different cultures.

McCandless Color Wheel
McCandless Color Wheel

Take-Aways:

  • Choose your colors carefully, taking into account the meaning that that color may invoke.
  • Pick a few major cultures/countries that you will be reaching with your design and check them on the cultural color chart from David McCandless to be sure you do not have some unintended color associations for that culture.

What do you think? What color meanings have you found in your work that surprised you?

100 Things You Should Know About People: #52: People Create Mental Models
100 Things You Should Know About People -- #50: 9 Percent Of Men And .5% Of Women Are Colorblind

7 Replies to “100 Things You Should Know About People: #51 — You React To Colors Based On Your Culture”

  1. I once designed a meditation guru’s business card using a fresh lime green background, wanting to conjure up feelings about nature, bamboo leaves, and relaxation in general; only to find that this went down like a lead balloon. Apparently, green brings bad luck!

    Found these little insights today –
    Green might anger the Little People:
    http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Is_it_true_that_green_color_may_signify_bad_luck_in_Ireland
    Green may bring bad luck during racing:
    http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20070727081930AAO8u7H
    Green was the room that Napoleon slept in before he died:
    http://www.theanswerbank.co.uk/Society-and-Culture/People-and-Places/Question230443.html

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