Joyful Design 06


The choice of color is a powerful practice, if we want to evoke specific emotions. Colors are rich in symbolic and cultural meanings and the expectations and emotions created by colors highly affect consumers experiences and therefore choices.

In addition to cultural specific meanings, color can also trigger responses that deeply come from our human psyche—color creates a sensory impression that reflects mood and emotion. Such as the experience of color climates can differ from clean and bright to muted and dark. The experience of color can be described as a combination of cultural context, narrative context and psychological effects. [1]

Psychological Effect Example: Wine Tasting
In a wine tasting study, participants used to describe the aromas of white wine by referring to pale or yellowish objects—lemon, grapefruit, melon, butter, pear… But, if the exactly same wine was colored red, participants described it mostly with terms referring to dark or red objects—hickory, cherry, tobacco, musk… [2] This example perfectly states, how color can directly manipulate our perception.

Cultural Context Example: Red [3]
Western Fairy Tales: Love, Sexual, Maturity; Greek Mythology: Mars, God of War; China and Japan: Love, Luck, Happiness; Shinto Religion: Life; Revolutionary Russia: Socialist State; United States: Republican Party; China, India, Nepal: Bridal Wear; National Flags: Blood; Germany, Poland, Russia: Fear, Jealousy; Korea: Love, Adventure, Good Taste; Worldwide Connotations: Fire, Coca Cola, Stop—do not enter (ISO Standards)

Colors can affect us regardless of their cultural connotations—however, if we want to design cultural universal we have to keep in mind that different colors can evoke different connotations/emotions and cultural background is one factor to consider.

The color of Joy

Due to this graphic, the color of joy, could be described as yellow [4]

The color of Happiness

However, the connotation of the feeling of happiness in regard to colors slightly differs between different cultural backgrounds. Western/American: Yellow; Hindu: Green; Asian/Chinese: Red; Native American: White

Even if color has different cultural meaning, scientific research suggests that in the absence of other cues, many responses are universal or widely shared amongst people.

As example: Orange, yellow and red make us feel alive and alert. Blue calms us down—this reactions may be rooted in our species quest for survive (this knowledge in turn connects to our joyful experience of rural landscapes—landscapes that where livable and therefore crucial environments for our survival). Also, we instinctively experience yellow as a happy or joyful color, because it is the color of sunshine and waking life. Whereas blue is connected with peacefulness and rest. [5]

Color Palettes

In a study where music, color and emotions where linked, researches provided different color palettes for the participants. The participants had to link whole palletes of color hues to different emotions and passages of music. The findings: Participants tended to link happy music and upbeat emotions with lighter, brighter, warmer colors, while linking sadder music and lower emotions with duller, darker, cooler tones. [6]


[1] Lupton, Ellen: Design is Storytelling. New York: Cooper Hewitt 2017, p. 104

[2] Lupton, Ellen: Design is Storytelling. New York: Cooper Hewitt 2017, p. 151

[3] Finlay, Victoria: Color: A Natural History of the Palette. New York: Random House 2002

[4] Colors in Culture. URL:

[5] Lupton, Ellen: Design is Storytelling. New York: Cooper Hewitt 2017, p. 108

[6] Lupton, Ellen: Design is Storytelling. New York: Cooper Hewitt 2017, p. 108p. 109