Colors convey symbolism and emotion. Brides wear
white to demonstrate innocence and purity. Hospitals
use green because it relaxes patients. Cheerful, sunny
yellow is an attention getter.
And then there’s red.
The way red is used in everyday phrases can help a
designer comprehend how the use of the color might
be perceived. And in the case of this particular
hue, it’s clear that the perceptions evoked span the
One thing about the color red: It’s never wishywashy.
The color portrays dominance, power, and
attention. Red is said to stimulate faster heartbeat
and breathing. Because of red’s visibility, stop signs,
stoplights, brake lights, and fire engines are traditionally
red. Use the color to grab attention and get
people to take action. Indeed, a little bit of red can
go a long way.
From a production standpoint, red deserves careful
handling. Here are six tips for getting the most out
of this exciting—and sometimes dangerous—color.
1. Consider readability.
Red display type can be attention getting and
dramatic, but large doses of red body copy are not
inviting to read. In certain applications—such as on
a warning label—this emotionally intense color can
have the desired cautionary effect. A red callout in
an otherwise black-and-white ad can drive a point
home in a flash.
2. Visualize the spectrum.
There is a range of colors—from scarlet and crimson
to maroon and burgundy, from ruby to pink—that
qualify for membership in the red family. While
we might immediately think in terms of cherry or
fire engine when someone says “red,” the other, less
in-your-face hues might be better solutions in certain
design applications. For example, scarlet red is
typically eschewed by companies for their annual
reports, while that same corporate client might
deem russet or cinnabar perfectly acceptable.
3. Pick good partner colors.
The “voice” of a color depends largely on the hues
that are placed next to it. Red is the hottest of the
warm colors. Cool blues provide contrast and cool
down the heat of red. Pinks and yellow are harmonizing
colors that can work well with red if not too
close in value. Purple can be an elegant contrast, but
often works best in moderation. Bright red graphics
on a black background can be elegant or impactful,
while red type reversed out of black can give the
reader a headache.
4. Think globally.
Colors often have different meanings in various
cultures. In Russia, for example, red means beautiful.
In China, it is the color thought to attract good
luck. In South Africa, red is the color of mourning,
and for the ancient Romans, a red flag was a signal
for battle. When designing materials that will
be distributed outside the United States, it always
makes good sense to find out if any unintended
message is being conveyed verbally, graphically …
or through the use of a particular color.
5. Evaluate usage.
Some notable companies—Target, Coca-Cola,
Adobe—successfully use a shade of red in their
corporate identities. Not many medical professionals—
and even fewer accountants—would warm up
to a tomato-colored logo, however. It is important to
be appropriate when using a color as bold as red.
6. Factor in the medium.
Ink colors typically “pop” more on a coated paper
surface, and if your intention is for the red in your
design to jump out, you’ll want to keep this in
mind. Similarly, paper that has a lot of yellow in it
will affect the red ink, giving it a slight orange cast.
Some web designers avoid the use of a lot of red in
their designs, while others have successfully incorporated
the color. (Specifying a browser-safe hue of
red will help ensure success.) Judicious use of colors
can make web pages more readable and can be one
of the most important elements of a website design,
but it is critical that the foreground and background
color combinations provide sufficient contrast. A
safe rule of thumb: Don’t use red (or blue) on a