Colours In Cultures

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

What colour is happiness in China? Or good luck in Africa? Or anger in Eastern Europe? Are any colour meanings universal across cultures and continents?

A visualisation of the meanings of different colours in different cultures by David McCandless and

  • EXTRA A short photo story about how a version of this image ended up as the 91st and final cover design of our book, Information is Beautiful. Yes, 91 versions!
  • HELP We’ve painted with a pretty broad brush. So there’s likely to be local variations or glitches. So if you spot any, or have you have references and sources for other colour meanings around the world, please send them over or comment below.

If you like this image, you can order an amazing full-colour print of it.

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Show Comments ( )

  • Richard Searle

    Hi David,

    Let me just say I’m a developer and you have single-handedly promoted my interest into design, I’m a mathematician at heart and your book and website has been a great inspiration into my journey into data visualization.

    But this article on colours in cultures has reminded me of a University projects a good friend had created

    the website is – its website to record colours of certain keyword, and im sure the guy who create the website records location data along with various other information about the user, if you wish to have access to the data let me know, I’m sure he would be super keen to have someone like you create some wonderful visualizations to go with the project.

    Regards and best of luck in the future.


  • Douglas

    There is no reason that information should be arranged radially.

    And frankly were it ordered otherwise the majority whitespace argues that there’s no real pattern here at all.

    What’s 92 look like?

  • Nick

    Some people on facebook were complaining that the graph was hard to read. I sketched out an idea for how to make it easier to keep track of who is what, but I lack the eye necessary to make the information truly beautiful. Here is the idea I started on:

    doing the whole thing would also probably be more time than I can spare at the moment, it’s moving time.

  • delainanicole

    There is a ton more that could be said for red! And much of it is consistent across the globe. Back in school I created a book on the color red that you might find helpful – check the bibliography at the end for some more resources:

  • david


    Yeah it is difficult to read. That was a decision we made on purpose. I’m generally against circular graphs. Look great. Very annoying to use. But in this case, we wanted people to dig into the information and be coaxed into exploring the data. And, of course, it looks nice!

    Thanks for your new approach. Putting concepts around the edge would lessen the legend. Maybe we’ll try it on the next draft?

  • Sailaja N. Joshi


    This is a great chart but you have some pretty glaring errors when it comes to Hinduism. Saffron (Gold in this case I suppose) is the color our Priests wear to symbolize that are religious, pious and learned individuals. It looks like that was completely missed on this graph. There are few more errors, but I can’t tell if its me reading the graph incorrectly. I would suggest switching up the style or making it so a person can zoom in on it!


  • Saeed Khan


    While the circle chart is visually pleasing, it makes it hard to read and understand, even if you try to “dig in” to it.

    Some suggestions to make this better, without changing the shape.

    1. Put concentric circles into it so that the eye can follow a circle around easier. e.g. If I’m only interested in circle D, I can track that much easier with the lines.

    2. Have the letters A-J in 3 equidistant spaces around the circle. i.e. instead of the 2 you have now. This will help the eye also track they are in the proper circle.

    3. Get rid of the legend with the 84 different traits and radially around the outside of the circle. Constantly having to move the eyes from the circular chart and then track down linear columns to find the right trait is really distracting.

    Having said that, given that this is a relatively sparse 2D matrix of values — i.e. culture, trait and colour, it would be much more valuable to arrange the chart by colour and culture and then list what the traits are at the intersection points.

    Then one could compare how a colour’s meaning differs across cultures — very important in today’s world.

    Good effort though in collecting the data and displaying it.

  • Saeed Khan

    #3 above should have read

    Get rid of the legend with the 84 different traits and place them radially around the outside of the circle. Constantly having to move the eyes from the circular chart and then track down linear columns to find the right trait is really distracting.

  • lainie

    I find the approach of making it difficult to use is counterproductive, as it discourages me from exploring data through this graph. i’m interested in the information, and in making the data comparisons, but that doesn’t mean i want a difficult interface.

  • Alaric

    I think this is fantastic.

    Though I’m curious to know why you haven’t put purple to represent royalty in the Western area?

    Am I too Eurocentric?

  • Dave

    I don’t know why you’d make the decision for it to be difficult to read on purpose. There are so many blanks and no gridlines, for some of the sparser sectors it’s an incredible chore deciphering what cultures are referred to.

    Here is a very quick-and-dirty mockup of what I think would work better.

  • Maykol Arancibia

    I love the idea and the visual result, and already saw your explanation about the difficult to read/circular graph, that’s ok. Thanks.
    But one thing makes me have a doubt: I’m in South American (from Brazil specifically) but inside all the south american cultures, I’m a good knower the Brazilian culture. And it’s brings me to a question: where in South America, green means death? As far as I know in the cultures from this part of the world, I guess black was the colour for death.
    And I think there is a common sense that white is the colours for peace too.
    The same thing for red means passion.
    Well, are some suggestions, to me the information about South American are a little supercial or incomplete.
    Anyway, sorry for my english and thanks.

  • Hallstein

    The real story here: will we ever get to see the other 90 versions? Perhaps, beautifully organised in an informative fashion? ;)

  • Ryan

    Just want to quickly point this out. (Since it’s actually the very first block i read and i found it wrong)

    Colour of celebration for Chinese can’t be Black, it’s always Red.

    • david

      @ryan – thanks for correction of red celebration in China. Any chance of a reference or source? (not that I’m doubting you).

  • Francois Jordaan

    I find your argument for the hard-to-read circular format unconvincing. If you really wanted people to learn something, with as little effort as possible, you’d simply have put the swatches into a table. (With A-J as the columns, and 1-84 as the rows.) But that wouldn’t look as nice, would it?

    Dave nails it in his comment (April 27, 2010 at 3:29 pm).

  • Jeremy

    I like the idea, but the infographic is nearly impossible to read… I completely agree with Nick and Saeed Khan’s opinions. It would work better if all the necessary info was directly on the graph, and not on a distracting, colorless and 100-items-long legend.

  • Robert

    I agree with others that at first it was a little hard to read at first, but I do see how it encourages exploration. I started at a color combo I knew (e.g. Western/Bad Luck) and then bit-by-bit outward (culture) and around (symbolic meaning).

  • zeliablue

    Me gusta vuestro debate. Puede que esté incompleto y que no sea muy legible pero me parece un buen principio. Ánimo.

  • Gerardo Paz

    A really sad work…Nice idea but is very incomplete. Really, do you think south american people don´t have any relation between emotions and colors as, for example western (and north, I guess) people has?

  • sumvision cyclone

    I just returned from Ecuador, where the population exceeds all other indigenous. The colours used by women, the primary bright green, purple, red, turquoise, blue, yellow, surely have a meaning. The colours used in coats, scarves and shawls, long skirts of wool, velvet knee pleated skirts, some with embroidery at low, low, white embroidered blouses are so amazing you may wonder what this means. And the hat alone.

  • MCSE courses UK

    Its totally depends on the myths and belief. Different people has different myths form every different country and culture.

  • Website

    I know a lot about colors.
    When I studied Chinese, together with the language we studied sme cultural applications, and so
    orange there means MONEY
    yellow – LOVE
    and red- LUCK…
    this what I remembered at once.
    but it’s def the matter of traditions and prejudices)

    every color is unique and sufficient!

  • Aaron

    Hi guys,

    Richard Searle above recommended one of my University projects to you, The site records location by IP, and asks the visitors to add their association of colours with emotions, this way they’re is no guessing about a general consensus – i.e. the information available on the site isn’t a guess or from WikiPedia, it’s user contributed and it’s steadily growing for a large number of countries now. A lot of people still say ‘we learnt this colour meant this’, I was taught the simplest way to find out what something means is to ask the person the question rather than working with assumptions, hence, ColoursEngine :)

    It hasn’t had much for China so far, but here’s what it’s got:

    If anyone would like a copy of the data to use for visualisations etc I’d be more than happy to share it.

    All the best,


  • Doug

    I’m curious how this relates to feng shui. I know that colors can relate to different points on the baguai, such as red in the south, related to reputation or fame.