Color Semiotics of Power Communication Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

The content of such a system, Eco continues, depends on our cultural organization of the world into several categories. And this categorization does not necessarily mean the very physical world in which we live:

Euclid's world is not a physical one, but a possible universe organized into points, lines, planes, angles, and so forth. It is a self-sufficient universe in which there are [...] only cultural units such as the concept of similitude and none such as the concept of love or justice. I can communicate about the Euclidian universe, making true or false assertions [...], but the units triangle and line are, in themselves, neither true nor false. They are simply the pertinent or relevant elements of the Euclidean universe. Thus a signification system allows its possible users to isolate and name what is relevant to them from a given point-of-view." (ibid)

With regard to colors and their analysis, Eco argues that this Euclidean world allows a system in which users can isolate and name the color schemas that are infused with meaning and that are worth studying and interpreting.

For instance, as discussed above, some signs are simply false beacons: They are randomly chosen, and yield no interpretive value. That said, there are some signs that are seemingly randomly chosen that do yield interpretive value: These are signs that are chosen based on some subconscious choice, such that the original choice was anything but random at all.

But with regard to the study of colors, only these subconsciously chosen color schemes and, of course, the purposely chosen color schemes yield some benefit to the interpreters.

The semiotics of a use of the color violet in a presentation, for instance, can be discussed when that use was either planned, or subconsciously suggested. If, however, that color violet was chosen by a computer, or because of some extrinsic reason such as, for instance, it was the only color left, or it was the cheapest color to use, interpretation falls entirely flat.

The Semiotics of Varying Colors

Going through the spectrum of colors, let us examine, as a review, the meanings of their uses.


Red is the color of blood and fire, so it is related to energy, war, strength, danger, power, determination as well as desire, passion and love.

Red is emotionally a very intense color. It increases human metabolism, increases respiration rate and even raises blood pressure. It has an extremely high visibility, which is why stop signs, stoplights, and fire equipment are usually done in red. In the middle ages, red was used to indicate courage. It is, in fact, a color that is found in many national flags.

Red brings words and images and pictures to the foreground. The color red can be used as an accent color to stimulate people to make fast decisions; for instance, it is a very popular color for 'Buy Now' or 'Click Here' buttons on Internet banners and Web sites. In the advertising world, red is often used to evoke erotic sensations (red lips, red nails, red-light districts, 'Lady in Red', etc.). Red is also widely utilized to indicate fears or dangers (high voltage signage, traffic signals, etc.). Red also commonly associated with energy, so it is also used while promoting energy drinks, cars, games, and also products related to sports and strenuous physical activity.

Here is a truly powerful color indeed. Red stimulates action and forces humans to make decisions. Red bestows upon the utilizer more than a certain modicum of control, which, as discussed above, is the greatest indicator of power. Moreover, red is related to all things involving action: war, strength, danger and fire. Here is a color which not only represents, but exudes power.


Orange is a melded color. It fuses the energy of red and the happiness of yellow. It is associated with joyousness, sunshine and even the tropics. Orange depicts enthusiasm, happiness, creativity, fascination, determination, attraction, success, encouragement and even stimulation.

For humans, and to the human eye, orange is a very heated color, so it gives the sensation of heat. Nevertheless, orange is not as aggressive as red. Orange is reported to increase oxygen supply to the brain, and it produces an invigorating effect, and stimulates mental activity. Orange is, according to several surveys, highly accepted among young people. As a citrus color, orange is related to healthy food and stimulates the human appetite. Orange is the color of fall and harvest. In medieval times, orange was symbolic of strength and endurance.

Orange has very high visibility, so it can be used to catch attention and highlight the most important elements of any design. Orange is generally used very effectively for promoting food products and toys.

Note here that orange, though similar to red, carries many differences in interpretation. First of all, it is not as aggressive as the color red, which immediately sheds some doubt on whether it can be considered a color of "power." And although strength is generally associated with power, endurance is indicative of more of a patience, not necessarily power or control.


Yellow is, like orange, the color of sunshine. It is related to joy, happiness, intellect and energy.

Yellow creates a warming effect, arouses cheerfulness, induces mental activity and generates muscle energy. Yellow is often related to food. Here, again, yellow appears to be very similar to orange.

However, that is where the similarities end. Bright, pure yellow is an attention-getter, and that is the reason taxicabs are painted bright yellow. When overused, yellow may have a disturbing effect; it has been established that babies cry more in yellow rooms. Yellow is seen before other colors when placed with black; this combination is often used to issue a warning or danger indicator. In the middle ages, yellow indicated honor and loyalty. However, later the meaning of yellow was connected with cowardice.

Yellow is used to evoke pleasant, cheerful feelings. Yellow is often chosen to promote children's products and items related to leisure. Yellow is very effective for attracting attention, so it can be used to highlight the most important elements of a design. Men can perceive yellow as a very lighthearted, childish color, so it is not recommended to use yellow when selling prestigious, expensive products to their gender - for instance, nobody will buy a yellow business suit or a yellow Mercedes. Yellow is an unstable and spontaneous color, so the color is often avoided in an attempt to suggest stability and safety. Light yellow can completely disappear into white without so much as a trace, so it usually requires a dark color to highlight it. Shades of yellow can be optically unappealing as they loose cheerfulness and become dingy.

The argument, however, is that yellow is just as powerful as red. Note some of the characteristics here. Yellow attracts attention, which is power. It also has a disturbing effect and may create fear in some viewers; that too is a distinguishing feature of power. Indeed, with the exception of the cowardice element, yellow is a very powerful color indeed.


Of course, green is the color of nature. It relates to growth, harmony, freshness, and fertility. Green involves a very strong emotional correspondence with safety. Dark green is also commonly associated, for obvious reasons, with money.

Green is viewed as having great healing power. It is the most restful and soothing color for the human eye; it can even improve vision. Green suggests patience, stability and endurance. Sometimes green denotes a lack of experience or street know-how; for example, a 'greenhorn' is a neophyte. In the middle ages, green indicated growth and hope. Green, as opposed to red in grandiose ways, signifies safety; it is the color of free fare in road traffic, even on our freeways and thruways today.

Green may be used to indicate safety when advertising drugs and medical products. Green is directly attached to nature, so that is why it is used to promote 'green' or environmentally sound products. Dull, darker green is commonly associated with money, the financial world, banking and Wall Street as indicated above.

Though associated with money, green does not carry any of the other characteristics of power: It indicates newness, and far too critical and preoccupation with all things natural. It is also free, and of course, power comes at a price.


Blue denotes the sky and sea. Blue is often related to extreme and unabashed depth and stability. It indicates trust, loyalty, wisdom, intelligence, confidence, faith, truth and, of course, heaven.

Blue is considered to be beneficial to both the mind and body. It slows human metabolism - as opposed to other colors -- and produces a calming effect on the viewer. Blue is strongly related to tranquility and calmness. In the middle ages, blue was used to indicate piety and sincerity.

Blue can be utilized to promote products and services related to cleanliness (water purification filters, cleaning liquids, even vodka), air and sky (airlines, airports, air conditioners), water…

Sources Used in Document:


Aisling Dream Interpretation: The Meaning of Colors in Dreams. 2003:

Cayce, Edgar. An Essay on the Meaning of Colors. 1989: ARE Press, New York.

Chandler, Daniel. Semiotics for Beginners. 2001:

Eco, Umberto. How Culture Conditions the Colours We See. 1976: Harvard.

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