Colour Semiotics


Colour surrounds us and contributes to visual communication in a powerful and yet often implicit way. Colour may tell us about personality through a person’s dressing, evoke the genre of a film in a movie poster, a political orientation, and it may guide our navigation of a virtual or physical space. Colour tells us about the roles of the people we meet, their position in a hierarchy, their profession. Colour is a semiotic resource which, like language, can misinform.

Whatever colour means, it may do so loudly, or it may mean subtly so that we barely notice its contribution to our understanding of the world. Most of us see colour, and yet for some people, colour means nothing at all, colour does not exist, and the world is described using other visual parameters which have nothing to do with hue. 

This blog is intended to share reflections, teaching and research about the types of meanings colour make in our world. Many historical accounts of colour, and several accounts of colour in culture and colour psychology exist. This blog takes a semiotic approach (van Leeuwen 2005), it looks at colour meaning in context, specifically three types of meaning: meanings that relate to things and concepts; meanings that relate to emotions and relations between people, and finally meanings that enable people to navigate a space, real or virtual, or to read infographics, and how these meanings are created (Kress & van Leeuwen, 1996/2006; van Leeuwen, 2011). The idea of this blog stems from the two university modules on colour semiotics which I wrote and taught. Students on the module consistently produce amazingly interesting papers, which should be reach more than by one reader!


Kress, G., & van Leeuwen, T. (1996). Reading images: The grammar of visual design. London: Routledge.
Kress, G., & Van Leeuwen, T. (2002). Colour as a Semiotic Mode: Notes for a Grammar of Colour. Visual Communication, 1(3), 343–368.  
Van Leeuwen, T. (2011a). The Language of Colour: An introduction. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Colour Semiotics Resources

UTW1001Z: Colour: Theory, meaning and practice

Colour Semiotics modules at University Town, National University of Singapore:

Dr Laetitia Monbec, Centre for English Language Communication • NUS • 4 Units

Colour has fascinated humans for millennia, yet it is poorly understood. What is the symbolic meaning of colours across cultures? How do colours impact our psychological well-being and our consumer choices? From the earth pigments of the prehistoric painters, to the synthetic colours of the Impressionists, colour technology has developed to meet new communication and expression needs and in doing so, a whole repertoire of meanings has evolved. In this course, students will explore scholarly and popular texts from a range of disciplines including visual arts, fashion, psychology, marketing and anthropology to investigate the theory, meaning and practices of colour.

Publications on colour semiotics & colour education