Cultural and Religious Implications of Color

Article 3 min
Color is a powerful element of design and is used symbolically to convey messages. However, color has different meanings across diverse cultures and religions. Doing your research and gaining sensitivity before you start a project will help you make the right color choices and help you avoid communicating the wrong message.

As a communicator, it's essential for you to understand your audience. Your audience will not always share your norms and beliefs. Before you make any design decisions, it's crucial for you to understand how the meaning of color is perceived in other cultures.

Red is a color that is often associated with passion, love and patriotism. It's a color that is featured prominently in a number of flags around the world.

In Asian communities, the color red symbolizes good luck, good fortune and celebration. Asian brides often wear red on their wedding day.

In Africa, however, red is associated with mourning, and in South Africa red represents violence.

Context is another important tool when deciding which colors to choose. For example, in Native American cultures, red offers spiritual protection from wounds. In dance or celebration, red symbolizes happiness and joy.

Hindus see yellow as the color of knowledge and learning. Lord Vishnu's dress is yellow symbolizing his representation of knowledge. Lord Krishna and Ganesha also wear yellow dresses.

Both Christians and Hindus associate yellow - the color of fire - with renewal and purity.

Not every religion perceives yellow as positive, however. The color yellow in the stars that Jews were forced to wear was associated with yellow fever and triggered non-Jews to see anyone wearing a yellow star as diseased.

Western cultures typically associate the color green with luck, money, nature and environmentalism. For Muslims, green is a very important color because it is associated with the prophet Muhammed (it's believed to be the prophet's favorite color), and is a symbol of life and paradise. The flags of Iran and Saudi Arabia include the color green as a sign of respect and honor.

Blue is often considered a safe color because it has so many positive associations. In North America and Europe blue represents trust, security and authority. This is why banks often use blue in their logos. In Japan, blue is the color of the common man, so you'll see it in school and worker uniforms and in dishes and signage.

In Western cultures, white symbolizes purity, elegance, peace and cleanliness, which is why it is common for brides to choose to wear white for their wedding.

In most Eastern cultures, however, white is the color of mourning.

Purple was historically a difficult color to make, so it is often associated with royalty, wealth, spirituality and nobility. In Japan, only the highest-ranked Buddhist monks wear purple robes.

In the Catholic faith, purple is associated with piety, faith and penitence.

In Thailand, every day has a lucky color and purple is the color of the day for Saturday. It is the color of Shani, the Hindu god of justice.

This is just a small sampling of how colors are perceived and interpreted in different ways depending on the audience. In order to connect with a diverse audience, you must understand and respect the cultural and religious significance of colors.