Optimizing color in digital design, Part III

What research reveals about primary color preference

Even popular color like blue can fail miserably

In my previous two installments, I’ve explained how when variables like tonality, contrast, and cultural preferences are miscalculated, even a popular color like blue can fail miserably in digital media. Likewise, typically unpopular colors like orange and brown can be highly effective in the right shade, combination and proportion.

Colors and cultures

Colors have different values/associations from one culture to another. For example, while red represents the life force and good fortune in China, it is symbolic for bad luck in Germany. Because so much is at stake in entering new markets, large international corporations have spent enormous amounts of money evaluating the impact of different colors. –We at OWDT bring a variety of cultural sensibilities and backgrounds to our work. Combining our intuitive sense of color with careful research, we have been able to create highly effective color pallets for our regional and international customers.

How we devised a winning color pallet for a chinese investment company

Zhongmen Group is a breakthrough, high-profile financial firm exclusively dedicated to generating institutional-scale outbound direct investment from China to global markets abroad. We designed their brand and website to attract clients across the global cultural spectrum. Fueled by the economic imperatives of the Chinese government, this organization–like others in like it–is on a steady trajectory of growth.

If you visit their website, you’ll find an elegant layout incorporating a judicious use of Chinese red to enhance viewer engagement. This contrasts nicely with a muted gold and other shades that create an optimal look for international viewers who expect to see colors that are consistent with the Chinese aesthetic, but will respond better to a somewhat less intense version of that pallet.

Here’s a sampling of different cultural color interpretations/associations


  • China/Japan: the life force
  • India: purity
  • Western: excitement, love, passion, danger
  • South Africa: mourning color
  • Hebrew : sacrifice, sin
  • Christian : sacrifice, passion, love


  • European/Western–soothing, “something blue” bridal tradition, depression, sadness, corporate credibility
  • Iran–mourning, color of heaven and spirituality
  • China–immortality
  • Hinduism–the color of Krishna
  • Judaism–holiness
  • Christianity–Christ’s color
  • Middle East–protection
  • Worldwide–‘safe’ color


  • European–happiness, hope, joy, cowardice, hazards
  • Asia–imperial, sacred
  • China–royalty, nourishing
  • Japan–courage
  • India–merchants/business
  • Buddhism–wisdom


  • European–fall, harvest, creativity, stand out color for protection
  • USA–Halloween (with black), cheap goods
  • Hinduism–saffron, a sacred color


  • Islam–hope–spiritual purity (the cloak of the prophet was believed to be green)
  • European/American–spring, environmental awareness, new birth, safety, money


  • European–royalty
  • Catholicism–death, mourning, crucifixion
  • Thailand–mourning


  • European–marriage, peace, doctors, hospitals, angels,
  • Japan/China–mourning, death
  • India–unhappiness
  • Eastern–funerals


  • European–mourning, funerals, death, rebellion, evil, cool
  • Thailand–bad luck, unhappiness
  • Judaism–unhappiness, bad luck, evil

In Part IV, I’ll introduce guidelines for the critical, often challenging task of choosing color combinations to increase your conversion rate.


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