Do different cultures perceive colors differently? How does this affect design decisions?


Yes, different cultures perceive colors differently, which affects their emotional responses and interpretations of color. When designing for a global audience, it's essential to research and understand the cultural color meanings and associations of colors in your target cultures. This understanding helps avoid using colors that may be taboo or carry negative connotations and ensures that your design resonates positively across different cultural contexts. Use color strategically to enhance user experience, maintaining cultural appropriateness and sensitivity.

Deep dive

Different cultures indeed perceive colors differently, impacting design decisions. When creating designs for a global audience, it's important to understand the cultural associations and color meaning in your target audience's culture. 

Perception of color across different cultures

Different cultures have unique interpretations and emotional responses to colors, which can impact how users interact with digital interfaces. Here are some examples of base color symbolism and meanings:

  • Red: In Western cultures, red is often associated with passion, love, and excitement. It can be used for calls to action (be careful of the user's perception of it as an error status) to evoke urgency or draw attention. In Asian cultures, red symbolizes luck, prosperity, and happiness and is commonly used in festive occasions and celebrations.
  • Yellow: In Western cultures, yellow can be associated with warmth, happiness, and optimism, and is used to create a friendly and inviting atmosphere. In Eastern cultures, it symbolizes courage and spirituality. Yellow is a sacred color in Polynesia, considered to be the color of the divine essence, and in China, it has strong historical and cultural associations.
  • Blue: In Western cultures, blue is often associated with calmness, trust, and professionalism and takes on authoritative and often conservative meanings. Members of the state, police officers, and suited businessmen often wear blue. In Eastern cultures and many ancient religions, blue has a spiritual or talismanic quality, protecting the ancient Egyptians from harm in the afterlife and warding off evil spirits in Mesopotamia and Assyria.
  • Green: In Western cultures, green is associated with nature, growth, and harmony and is often used in environmental and wellness-related applications. In Eastern cultures, it can represent fertility and prosperity. However, despite its association with fertility and vitality, green is often linked to sickness in Western cultures.
  • Black: In Western cultures, black is associated with sophistication, power, and formality and is commonly used for luxury brands and sleek designs. In Eastern cultures, black may symbolize mourning or death. UX designers should be mindful of cultural sensitivities when using black in interfaces.

Table with color meanings in different cultures.


Colors can be tied to historical events or political movements, such as red being associated with communism or revolution in certain contexts, or white, which is seen as a symbol of purity in many Western cultures, can represent mourning and death in some parts of Asia. 

Start by thoroughly researching the predominant colors and their meanings in your target cultures. Identify any colors that are taboo, offensive, or carry negative connotations.

Colors and their associations in western cultures.


McDonald’s UI design case

McDonald’s, for example, is keenly aware of the color to culture dependence and in India, the website prominently features the yellow combination with red, which holds significant “happy” and “courage” values in the country's cultural context. However, upon visiting the Swedish McDonald’s site, you may notice the absence of red. Instead, the website uses white, green, and yellow tones, reflecting the local association with a health-conscious and environmentally-friendly lifestyle. Check the Indian and Swedish versions' differences.

Indian and Swedish McDonald's website versions.


Develop color palettes

Research cultural color symbolism

Start by researching the symbolism, associations, and meaning of colors in different cultures of your target audiences. Remember from the previous part how different cultures perceive and interpret colors to ensure your color choices are culturally appropriate.

Select primary colors with positive connotations

Choose colors that have universally positive associations or neutral symbolism across cultures. Opt for hues that convey concepts such as joy, harmony, and prosperity, while avoiding colors that may carry negative connotations in certain cultures.

Harmonize secondary colors with cultural context

Select a secondary color that complements the primary color. Choose hues that are harmonious with the primary and culturally relevant to the target audience, taking into account any cultural associations or taboos. Consider using tools like Adobe Color to generate and test palettes.

Questions designers should ask themselves

By asking the right questions, designers can question their decisions, find areas to improve, make sure nothing is overlooked, and reduce mistakes, leading to better, more thoughtful designs.

  • What are the primary cultural or regional groups our product targets?
  • What are the predominant meanings, symbolism, and associations of colors in these target cultures?
  • Are there any colors that are taboo, offensive, or carry negative connotations in these cultures?
  • How can we adapt our color palette to align with cultural preferences while maintaining our brand identity?
  • What are the most effective ways to test and validate our color choices with representative users from each target culture?
  • How can we ensure consistency and clarity in our color usage guidelines for different cultural audiences?

Common mistakes to avoid

Learning from your mistakes is important, but many problems can indeed be predicted and avoided. Based on Cieden's collective expertise, we're sharing the most common ones.

  • Assuming that color associations are universal or rely solely on Western color psychology principles.
  • Ignoring the cultural context and using colors that may be offensive, taboo, or carry negative connotations in certain cultures.
  • Failing to test and validate color choices with representative users from target cultures.
  • Using a one-size-fits-all approach and not adapting color palettes to suit different cultural preferences.
  • Not providing clear guidelines on color usage for different cultural audiences in design systems and style guides.
  • Neglecting to monitor and adapt color choices based on user feedback and changing cultural trends post-launch.


Our content combines the knowledge of Cieden’s designers with insights from industry influencers. Big thanks to all the influencers for sharing awesome content!

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