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Seeing Red

During a visit to the Getty Villa, my eyes were captured by a movement of color in the courtyard below me. It was the color of the overcoat worn by a docent: bright red against the gray stone. The members of the tour group blended into the background, but she stood out like a stop light.

Red is the most assertive of the hue families. Having the longest wavelengths when reflected or transmitted, it is the color we notice first in most circumstances, reaching our eyes first ahead of all the others.

Red is a color of good fortune in many Asian cultures, and is the color that signifies passion, courage and danger in Western culture. Women who wear red are seen as powerful, whether in business or social settings, but a man in a red business suit is not perceived as someone to be taken seriously. If you’re seeing red, you’re angry. If you’re having a red letter day, that’s a good thing, but if your finances are in the red, that’s bad. Generally, men tend to prefer warm reds, while women tend to prefer cool reds – colors we know as magenta, crimson and fuscia.

Red acts on our pituitary to increase blood pressure and appetite. It is an energizing color that is known to encourage healing and synaptic connections. It is associated with blood, revolution and romance. Pink, a member of the red color family, is sometimes used to calm and pacify, so we know that red can easily lose its potency when mixed with white, black, gray or an opposite color.

Every person has color preferences stemming from their life experiences. Physiological responses are common to human beings in general. Since color is a fundamental design element, designers should have a well-rounded knowledge of color theory that addresses color perception, psychology and symbolism in order to make intelligent design decisions.

Further reading:
Why Color Matters

Use Proportions To Create Better Color Schemes


Alvalyn Lundgren

Alvalyn Lundgren is the founder and principal of Alvalyn Creative, an independent consultancy providing brand strategy design and bespoke illustration for more than 30 years. She is the creator of Freelance Road Trip — a business school and podcast for creative freelancers. She teaches design and design practice on the college level with design schools and programs.

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