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color in design

Understanding the Meaning of Color in Design

Did you know your surroundings may be influencing your emotions and state of mind? Do you ever notice that certain places especially irritate you? Or that certain places are especially relaxing and calming? Well, there’s a good chance that the colors in those spaces play a part in causing those emotions in you. When it comes to graphic design, it’s always good to choose the colors that match the emotion you want to make your viewer feel.

Color theory

Knowing the effects color has on a majority of people is an incredibly valuable expertise that designers can master and offer to their clients. There’s a lot to it, though. Something as simple as changing the precise hue or saturation of a color can evoke a completely different feeling. Cultural differences can compound those effects, with a hue that’s happy and uplifting in one country being seen as depressing in another. For example, in the Western world, black is traditionally worn at funerals, whereas in Ethiopia, India, and China, white is the color of mourning. That’s why a designer needs to factor in many things about the client before offering them a solution. 

But, let’s start with the basics. Remember hearing about primary, secondary, and tertiary colors? They’re pretty important if you want to understand, well, anything about color.

Primary Colors

Primary colors are those you can’t recreate by combining two or more other colors together. They’re a lot like prime numbers, which can’t be created by multiplying two other numbers together. However, they can be (and often are) used to create other shades.

There are three primary colors:

  • Red
  • Yellow
  • Blue

Secondary Colors

Secondary colors are the colors that are formed by combining any two of the three primary ones listed above. Check out the color theory model above — see how each secondary color is supported by two of the three primary colors? 

  • Red + Yellow = Orange
  • Blue + Red = Purple
  • Yellow + Blue = Green

Tertiary Colors

Tertiary colors are created when you mix a primary color with a secondary color. 

  • Red + Purple = Red-Purple (magenta)
  • Red + Orange = Red-Orange (vermillion)
  • Blue + Purple = Blue-Purple (violet)
  • Blue + Green = Blue-Green (teal)
  • Yellow + Orange = Yellow-Orange (amber)
  • Yellow + Green = Yellow-Green (chartreuse)

Let’s take a look at not only what emotions they evoke but also the color symbolism that goes along with it. This is how we used colors for our clients designs!


Red is in the “Warm” color family and tends to evoke feelings of passion in terms of both love and hate. This is proven by the fact that you can see the color red used in both imagery of Cupid, an angel of love, as well as demons. Red can be associated with anger but is also associated with importance (think of the red carpet). Red is best used as an accent color, as it can be overwhelming and even harmful to the eyes if used in large amounts!



Yellow, also a warm color, is considered to be one of the brightest and most energizing of the warm colors. It’s commonly associated with happiness and sunshine. However, it can also be used to convey a warning or signal caution as it’s commonly used at construction sites. We use yellow when we want a bright pop of happy energy or to draw immediate attention to an area. Yellow is also great for creating more industrial or modern designs. If you find that yellow is too stark and bright, try using a more muted yellow.



Blue is often associated with sadness in the English-speaking world. Blue is also used extensively to represent calmness and responsibility. Lighter shades of blue can be refreshing and friendly, while darker ones are stronger and more reliable. Blue is also associated with peace and has spiritual and religious connotations in many cultures and traditions (for example, the Virgin Mary is generally depicted wearing blue robes).

When using blue, remember the exact shade of blue you select will matter most with how your design will be perceived. Light blues are often calming, bright blues can be refreshing or even energizing while dark blues, like navy, are great for corporate designs where reliability is a featuring trait.



Magenta is a colour of universal harmony and emotional balance. It is spiritual yet practical, encouraging common sense and a balanced outlook on life. It promotes compassion, support, and kindness. It brings about a sense of self-respect and contentment in those who use it. Psychologically, magenta helps us to flow with life and let go of old ideas. It’s associated with love, warmth, and respect and is a very feminine color.

Magenta is unconventional and prides itself on being unique, it’s also a friendly and welcoming color. It is also agreeable, very helpful and doesn’t like confrontation. Emotions are often expressed and open for all to see. Magenta is a color that has strong connections to spirituality and intuitive thinking. Magenta is a strong and inspiring color that can appear outrageous and shocking on one hand or innovative and imaginative on the other. It is particularly attractive to the non-conformists of the world.


Color is something so simple that some people may take it for granted, but in reality, there’s a whole science to color and why and how we use it. There are no best color combinations for graphic design, so you can experiment and be creative. It all depends on the client and the message they want to convey.

At Hybrid Digital, we use color theory when designing for our clients, and that’s how we try to relay their message as best as possible. That’s because, for us, there is no greater feeling than finally finding the perfect colors that make clients’ design stand out and look great. To find out more about graphic design in marketing, check out our blog!


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