Green Means Stop

Green Stop Sign

Today we are going to talk about what colors say. For instance, Green often says “it’s not easy being me”… Okay, Green doesn’t really say that, we all know that Green only speaks Dutch…

Colors convey important information, however they sometimes tell us the wrong thing. A green stop sign is a great visual contradiction. We learn from a young age that “green means go”, “red means stop”, and yellow either means “slow down” or, depending on your parents, “go like hell”. So what happens when you switch around the colors on a traffic light? You get a whole bunch of accidents when people receive conflicting signals.

More Predictable than the 2004 Republican National Convention

The proper use of color both simpler and far harder than it might first seem. It is simple in that we need only follow well established color conventions wherever color is used to convey meaning in our designs (of course, it is conveyed another way as well for color-blind and other users, right, eh, no, hmmm, we’ll get to that another day). That’s really not that hard to do. It’s just a matter of not avoiding the obvious.

So what makes proper color use so hard? Well, there are two primary reasons:

  1. A desire to be original and creative
  2. The global cultural differences in the meanings assigned to colors

The first one is the one we can deal with more easily. Be creative within reasonable constraints. Don’t make your submit button red and delete everything button green. Stick to the obvious and you will generally be okay.

The second one is a little harder to work with. White and red have radically different connotations in Japan versus America. For a quick eye opener look at this Color Symbolism Chart. White, Green, and Red are particularly tricky when working with a global audience since the meanings and connotations can be quite different across cultures.

It’s not that you can’t be creative about the colors you use just that you should know what they mean to people and take that into account when you are choosing your color palette. A world with only blue websites would be boring as heck, but let’s not go crazy with color to the detriment of our users.

Kevin Hall
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