We’ve shared earlier a basic understanding of how critical color decisions can be in business. These decisions are difficult because of every individual filters color with different conscious and subconscious associations. Understanding these associations within the audience for whom your work, service, or product is intended is essential to making smart color decisions and bridging the gap between what you are trying to communicate and what is actually perceived. If you’re considering designing with the color red, read on to understand the key impact this color has on your audience and brand.
Many interesting observations can be made about red’s ability to contradict itself. Across cultures we see red portrayed in a variety of different associations. In China, red is a symbol of good luck. In South Africa, red is symbolic of mourning. If you’re “in the red” on Wall Street, you’re losing money.
In Jamaica, if you’re red, you’re drunk. In U. S. politics, Red is the Republican Party. Worldwide, red is the color communism. As we can see in these few examples, even though the color itself does not change, the emotional impact that it creates does.
Remember, red’s meaning is often dependent on its cultural, historical, and political context. Another set of contradictory emotions that red creates is love and danger. “Red” holidays like Christmas and Valentine’s Day are often associated with warmth, love, and giving. Red is generally a “warm” color. Outside of this holiday context, however, red can be associated with the alarm, hazard, blood, and danger. Ironically, red is symbolic of the nearness of life as well as the potential loss of life.
There are more connections and contradictions that can be made, but the point is obvious: know your audience when using red and make sure the message is clear. As opposed to blue, which is an appetite suppressant, red is an appetite stimulant, especially with yellow. That’s why fast food restaurants have been designing with the color red for years. If you think about the fast food industry, you will quickly realize that dozens of restaurants utilize red: Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Burger King, Denny’s, Sonic, KFC, Arby’s… you get the idea. The idea behind this color usage is that it is attention grabbing and associated with speed and quickness. Furthermore, red makes sense when used in signage because it is easy to see from far away, unlike blue that might get lost against the sky.
One specific industry that often finds itself “stuck” in one of the contradictions we mentioned above is the medical industry. On the one hand, the medical world is associated with life, giving, support, and care, while on the other hand, it’s linked to injury, blood, risk, and emergency. Some organizations, such as The American Red Cross, managed to overcome this negative barrier, but when talking about the medical industry as a whole, red should be avoided. In our often subconscious opinion, the bad far outweighs the good.