Colour Psychology Quick Reference Cards

Even a high-level understanding of the emotions and associations of colours will improve your designs and conversion rates

Colin Shanley
Design + Sketch
4 min readOct 13, 2020

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Hero shot for Colour Psychology Quick Reference Cards, by Colin Shanley

Show me the green, because I’m down and feeling blue. If you do, I will be in the pink. If you don’t — either because of that streak of yellow down your back or because of your black heart — I’ll see red. And by the time I’m done with you, you’ll be waving the white flag.

Did you know that wedding dresses used to be green and not white? Why? Because green is associated with fertility and growth. And back in the day — that being the 15th Century — procreation was considered more important than chastity, which is symbolised by the purity of white. And black has always been associated with funerals, of course. In the West, that is — in Arabic countries the colour is white, and in some countries in the Orient purple is the colour of mourning.

Colour psychology is an expansive subject and far from a definitive one. Everyone in history, from Aristotle to Jonny Ive, has pontificated on the meaning of colour. Freud believed in the relevance of colours in dreams, and Jung believed they were psychic inclinations of our subconscious.

There are many contributory factors involved in associating colours and meanings — from neurology, to our own cumulative life experience. Colour also plays a role in art, religion, ceremony, politics, tribalism and war. There are clear cultural divisions — culturally significant colours are by no means universal. That said, the global economy is flattening those differences at a rapid rate. For example, white wedding dresses are now commonplace in China (as opposed to the orthodox red). Cultural differences flatten still further in the digital world.

In this article I present some ready-reference infographics of the main traits and associations for the 11 colours of the Basic Colour Terms (BCT), covering:

  • Warm colours (red, orange, yellow)
  • Cool colours (green, blue, purple)
  • Neutral colours (pink, brown, white, grey, black)

If you keep these to hand you will certainly be in a position to better target an audience with your designs, evoke the desired emotions in them, and even improve conversion rates.

Some readers may be wondering how it is that pink is a neutral colour (or brown). Neutral colours are those that do not have a specific wavelength of light in the visible spectrum. White, grey and black obviously do not have wavelengths. But neither do pink or brown — the only way of creating these colours is to mix other colours with a neutral colour (e.g. red and white — white being neutral — makes pink).

Infographic for the colour red
Infographic for the colour orange
Infographic for the colour yellow
Infographic for the colour green
Infographic for the colour blue
Infographic for the colour purple
Infographic for the colour pink
Infographic for the colour brown
Infographic for the colour white
Infographic for the colour grey
Infographic for the colour black

Colin Shanley has been a designer and author for more than 30 years. This article is abstracted from his book Colour in User Interface Design, available on Amazon or for direct purchase of the ePUB.

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Colin Shanley
Design + Sketch

Colin has been a non-fiction writer and author for more than 30 years. His commissions include banking and financial, AI and programming, pharmaceuticals, etc.