There are some things that you wouldn’t have thought of when using red, such as symbols or effects on our mood. After all, it’s just a colour, right? Red has quite a few qualities and associations; fiery, passionate and overall dynamic are just a few descriptive words that barely scratch the surface.
Prepare to go deeper into the subject and see just how it works!
Like its predecessor from the previous article, red is part of the primary triad, but it is also on the opposite side in a few senses. Unlike blue, its name is much less tolerant and only a few colours have the luxury of being included in the category. The exclusiveness is present at a biological level, as well: only one of the three types of receptor cells is truly sensitive to the wavelengths characterising red. If you really think about it, just slightly tinting something red will most probably warrant a different name.
Being a warm colour, it tends to be more invasive and will make a room appear to be smaller than it actually is, but when used well and in darker forms, it can lend itself to a cozier environment.
As mentioned, red is somewhat more difficult to perceive and this is because it has the highest of wavelengths. As its wavelength increases, it also nears the edge of what is called infrared, which cannot be perceived by the naked eye.
Colour therapy suggests that exposure to red raises the blood pressure, thus having an invigorating effect. Without going too much into the subject, Eastern philosophy associates red with the adrenal glands and, by extension, with the emotions produced by increased adrenaline.
Naturally, the things associated with it vary with every culture, but there are some general symbols with which we can all agree. In no particular order, these include heat, fire, passion, courage, danger, love and energy.
It is a very human colour which is why it has emotions associated to it. Demanding activities, whether mental or physical, and strong emotional responses imply increased blood flow therefore creating a very straightforward connection with red: blood.
Delving deeper into the human aspect, warmth and energy can be derived. Strangely, the general idea of flames being red has long been rooted, even though orange would be more appropriate. Perhaps it’s because it triggers much stronger feelings which are better represented by fire and we also tend to remember and associate extremes. Warmth and heat also suggest life, but from an inner perspective.
Red is a very powerful symbol for danger because of its immediate perception and adrenaline-related qualities. Stop signs and stop lights are examples of its daily uses. In part because of this, large quantities of bright red can be overbearing so it should be used sparingly.
Given its overall effect, for a balanced result it’s best to either tone down a predominantly red design or use it in smaller quantities to bring more life. This mostly concerns bright shades; while darker tones can still be imposing, they are still more tolerable. It should be noted that it tends to conflict with strong cool colours and will warm up more passive colours like browns.
Its complementary is green and theoretically it should be used in a 50-50 proportion for a harmonious effect. In order to avoid a Christmas impression, their interaction should be kept at a minimum and a third colour should be introduced to keep them in check by dominating quantity-wise. Another solution is to use less bright variants.
As an attention-grabber, it works well on darker backgrounds such as dark grey, ash brown and even black. The contrast is effective even with darker or vintage tones of red. On the opposite side, it can be successfully used on white backgrounds in more minimal designs, but once again with a bit of caution.