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History and Impact of a Color: Red, Blue, Black, White and Purple

Visual channel – is the main panel for out perception — up to 80% of an information a person receives through it. There is no doubt, that color has a tremendous impact on us, regardless of whether we are aware of this or not. We chose five of our favorite colors and found out, how their symbolism and people’s perception of them has changed over the millennia.

The effect of color on a mental state

Noteworthy is the story, that Johaness Itten tells in his textbook about color. One man organized a gala business dinner. Amazing smells coming from the kitchen greeted the guests who came to the house, and everyone looked forward to their feast. When the cheerful company settled around the table, covered with superbly cooked dishes, the owner lit the dining room with a red light. The meat on the plates have been painted a delicate pink color, and it seemed appetizing and fresh, but the spinach turned utterly black, and the potatoes were bright red. No sooner had the guests come to their senses in surprise, as the red color turned to blue, the roast assumed a putrid tint, and the potatoes seemed to become moldy. All guests immediately lost all appetite. However, when, in addition to all this, the owner turned on the yellow color, turning the red wine into vegetable oil, and the guests into living corpses, several sensitive ladies got up and quickly left the room. It didn’t occur to anyone to think about food, although everyone knew very well, that all the strange sensations were due to a change in the color of light.

Color accompanies us from birth, and we think that everything in the world is colored. Until that physics lesson at school, when we get to know, that the objects of the surrounding reality are colorless.

It can be difficult for an ordinary person to explain what color is from the scientific point of view. Here come to the aid of professionals who have described in simple terms, what is color, how does it relate to the wavelength of light and why do we see the world around us in color?

The primary seven colors -also the same color as a rainbow – are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. However, as Joseph Albers writes in “Interaction of color” primary colors can vary depending on the social context of their use.

While for a colorist (artist, designer), primary colors are, as we all know, blue, red and yellow, the physicist will have his three colors (and yellow is not one of them), but the psychologist will count four primary colors ( the fourth of them is green), as well as two neutral colors – black and white.

It is believed that color perception is also due to gender. According to statistics men can recognize fewer shades than women. Your ability to perceive the subtleties of color can be checked in the test.

Red – energetic and disturbing


For thousands of years, red was perceived in West Europe as the only real color. In terms of chronology and hierarchy, he is far ahead of other colors. The earliest color scheme that man discovered for himself was the gamut of red: on its basis he developed the very first palette, creating different tones and shades.

In Western Europe, right up to the domination of the Roman Empire, to paint a piece of cloth most often meant to change its original color to one of the red shades. In some languages, the same word, depending on the context, can mean both “red” and simply “color”: for example, “coloratus” in classical Latin or “сolorado” in modern Spanish. Russian adjectives “red” and “beautiful” are derived from a single root.


One of the main functions of red in our time is to prevent, prescribe, prohibit, condemn and punish. This applies to a variety of areas and circumstances of our life – from a teacher’s error correction with a red pen to traffic signs. Red has long been associated with the color of justice – the mantle of the judges are red.

In most Western European languages, there are expressions, in which the idea of caution or prohibition is conveyed by the word “red”, for example, “red level of danger”, “cross the red line” and so on.

At the same time, red was and remained the color of nobility and greatness. It is full of life, energetic and even aggressive. It is believed that red wine invigorates more than white, red meat is more nutritious, red cars – let us remember “Ferrari” and “Maserati” – faster than others.

Blue – introverted and calming


Even though blue is widely represented in nature, it is tough to find a definition of this color in many ancient languages. This circumstance even made the scientists of the XIX century doubt, that the ancients distinguished the blue color the same way we do now.

In the Middle Ages, there were two main scales of color change – the saturation scale and the brightness scale. It is likely that they are based on a binary opposition: black and white (due to different attitudes to light, to its strength and purity), and white and red (due to varying approaches to the dye, to its presence or absence).

In this system with three poles and two scales, there was no place for blue color until the middle of the XIII century, when new color combinations replaced this ternary scheme.

From the 13th century, blue started to play the role of an aristocratic, royal color. At the time of the Reformation, blue became the color of dignity and high morality. It can be said that, up to now, blue has gradually conquered new areas of life, displacing the red color.

In the twentieth century, blue was named the most popular color of apparel in West Europe. Among other things, he asserted as people’s most favorite color.

According to YouGov research, blue is preferred in both Europe and Asia, for the exception of Japan.

There, 30% of the population call white color its favorite. It is followed by black (25%) and red (20%). This situation creates significant difficulties for multinational corporations of Japanese origin. For example, in marketing strategy and advertising, they have to develop two different approaches: one of them will be aimed at the local consumer, the other – at the western one.


One of the main characteristics of blue in Western color symbolism is calm, peaceful, unobtrusive, almost neutral. The walls of hospitals are painted blue; tranquilizers and other drugs of similar effect have blue packaging.

We resort to blue in politics to express the ideas of moderation and dialogue. Blue does not offend anyone’s feelings, does not violate any prohibitions; he promotes harmony and unity. Almost all major international organizations have chosen blue or blue emblems: the UN, UNESCO, the Council of Europe, the European Union. Blue has become a global color; it aims to strengthen peace and cooperation between nations.

In today’s culture, blue translates trust and reliability and adds to customer loyalty. Therefore, this color is preferred by many banks – US Bank, Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, etc. Blue is often associated with innovations and large corporations – Microsoft, Expedia, Boeing, Intel, Facebook, Twitter.

BLACK – fashionable and mysterious


In Christian theology, white and black constitute a pair of opposites and the opposition of Good and Evil. It is based on the Book of Genesis (light/darkness), as well as on associations related to nature (for example, day/night). In mass culture, black is still used as a component of negative characters’ image (Malifees and Kruella le Wil from Disney, Darth Vader in Star Wars, black Spider-Man Marvel).

Christianity does not know the negative perception of white, but black in some cases can be perceived positively and be an expression of a particular virtue. A long-standing and surviving example is the monastic attire: from the end of the Carolingian era, black becomes familiar to the vestments of all Benedictine monks.

Contrast black/white is not the only permissible. At the dawn of chess in India, and then in the Arab-Muslim world, blacks fought against the red (they still use such chess in the lands of Islam) since in Asia from time immemorial these two colors constituted a steady opposition. However, this opposition, so crucial for the East, completely lost its meaning when chess found itself in the West. In Western European culture, black and red were not perceived as antagonists. To create an opposition accessible to Western understanding, we had to replace the color of the parties’ figures. Two or three centuries on the chessboards of Europe, the reds will fight against whites, and the cells will be painted in the appropriate colors. Then, from the middle of the 13th century, everything begins to change again: first, the figures, and then the cells on the board become as we know them now – black and white.

After the introduction of the law against luxury in Europe in the 14th century, according to which the color was represented as nothing but embellishment, falsehood and illusion, black gets a new round of development. The urban population makes it fashionable. Wealthy merchants who have not yet reached the top of the social ladder are not allowed to wear clothes made from rich reds (such as scarlet Venetian cloth) or bright blue (like Florentine “peacock” cloth) fabrics. As a sign of silent protest, they give birth to the habit of dressing in black.


Even today, black will remain a high fashion fetish. At any social event, black is the most wearable color.

Black is also ubiquitous among creatives, as a symbol of inspiration and subtle thought. He is also loved among people associated with money and power, as it translates a feeling of influence and power.

Purple – Mysterious and Majestic


Purple has long been used in the clothing of the ancient Europeans as a substitute for black in the days of sorrow and repentance. At that time, the purple color was obtained by dipping the fabric first in a tub of blue paint, and then in a tub of black. However, since the beginning of the 15th century, traditional purple has almost disappeared. A new purple replaces it. The purest and brightest paints are produced from new raw materials brought from Ceylon, Java and tropical regions of India. New purple resembles antique purple; apparently, it does not cause negative associations characteristic of purple symbolism: sadness, seclusion, bad omen, and even treason (Ganelon, the traitor from “The Song of Roland”) is believed to wear purple clothes. These new purple and crimson tones will remain in vogue at princely and royal courts until the middle of the 17th century.


Purple is one of three complementary colors. It combines the warmth of red and the serenity of blue. The influence of violet on the psyche determines its subtone. It is believed that the strictly violet color carries darkness, death and at the same time piety, blue-violet causes a feeling of loneliness and self-sacrifice, red-violet is associated with heavenly love and spiritual majesty.

As the antipode of yellow color – the color of knowledge – purple is the color of the unconscious and mysterious, then threatening, then encouraging, but always impressive. Depending on the neighboring contrasting tones, it can often cause even sad mood.

In mass culture, this color is worn by magicians and wizards, for example, Dr. Strange, Ursula from the Little Mermaid, the Cheshire Cat, and the Fairy in Cinderella.

White – pure and innocent


This is the first color that a person managed to get on his own, without resorting to any chemical tricks. All natural materials – flax, wool, and cotton – have a grayish color. To get a dazzling white color, people spread fabric into the sun, so that they burn out.

White was one of the first colors used in art. Lascaux Cave in France contains drawings of bulls and other animals painted by Paleolithic artists between 18,000 and 17,000 years ago. Paleolithic artists used calcite or chalk.


White color depending on the subtone may seem cold. Therefore, it is associated with purity and even sterility (cleanliness). Items that are supposed to be clean are classically performed in white – toilets, operating rooms, hospitals, doctors’ gowns.

In a figurative sense, white also means innocence (purity). In many cultures, white wedding dresses are the personification of the integrity of the bride.

White color – often used as a synonym for a new beginning. In Russian there is an expression “Start with a clean (in the meaning of white) sheet.”

White has long been considered the color of mourning. In ancient Egypt, the dead were wrapped in a white shroud. White was also the color of mourning in France until the 16th century, and in many Asian countries to this day.

In marketing and branding, white is used to convey a sense of security, freshness, and cleanliness, as well as to create a contrast. Hewlett-Packard (HP), Lego, Volkswagen, Starbucks, Levi’s, and Ford logos are white.

In opinion polls about the favorite color, white almost always grazes back. However, this does not apply to the interior. White is the favorite color in the design of offices and apartments, as well as the best-selling color of T-shirts in the world. The same goes for cars.

Summary – the same color has different connotations in different circumstances.

Despite the existing of generally accepted associations with colors, their perception is purely individual and depends on cultural, age, gender, and social differentiation.

According to Johannes Itten: “The deep blue of the sea and distant mountains fascinate us, the same color in the interior seems eerie and lifeless. The blue reflections on the skin make it pale, almost deadly. The blue sky bathed in sunlight renders us a revitalizing as if activating the effect, while the blue color of the sky lit by the moon causes passivity, arousing an incomprehensible longing in our heart.”

When working with your brand, it is essential to pay due attention to color solutions. Better yet, entrust the choice of color to professionals.


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