Web Design — Cross-Cultural Differences In Meaning Of Color


The meanings and feelings associated with certain colors seem like a no brainer. We absorb that red implicates danger, yellow dreams warning, some shades of blue can be happy, while others are sad. Green can mean wealth or greed. These basic assumptions are something we take for granted, as we've been raised since childhood making these sorts of associations. Some will even try to argue that these colors inherently contain these meanings, as some matter of undeniable, universal truth that always was and always will be.

This could not be further from the truth. Sometimes there is a historical reason that a color has some meaning associated with it, like the color white in Korea. It has a strong association with mourning and other memorial meanings, and those mourning or remembering a false ancestor were expected to wear white on those days. Sometimes it got to the point where there were so many to mourn or memorialize, that the upper classes would just wear white at all times. The color then began to take on the meaning of wealth or high-class.

But then again the color white can also stand for purity. This is common in most cultures, as white is untainted with any other color or dye. One must be careful, because wherever white will be seen as pure, high-class or a color of mourning will vary greatly depending on context.

Sometimes a color might have a meaning in one culture and have no meaning in others. In western culture, most would recognize pink as being feminine. There is no such meaning in most other cultures, so trying to communicate a feminine message using pink is far less effective.

While factoring in differenting cultural meanings is obviously important in international advertising campaigns and global initiatives, the importance is often understated in local advertising. Does your area have a large immigrant population? Is your advertising aimed at out-of-town visitors who might come from another culture? These are things you must think of even locally when deciding what colors to use.

Visit this site for a chart that maps the meanings different cultures assign to colors.

Dusty Sensiba

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