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Color connotations and associations

3 weeks ago
Esri Contributor
5 3 263

Colors are never neutral. They affect how people think and feel about your map. As a cartographer, you should be aware of the connotations and associations carried by the colors you use. They can be powerful tools to help you communicate more clearly. But if you ignore them, they can just as easily sabotage your map’s message. The two videos below share examples of color choices based on associations and connotations. The examples given are in ArcGIS Pro, but this advice is relevant to any mapping situation.

 (Watch the video with subtitles here:

 (Watch the video with subtitles here:



  • If there’s a color that’s normally associated with your subject, you should probably use it in your map.
  • What colors will your audience expect to see on this map? Try those first.
  • Color connotations and associations can be overpowered by other signals in your map.
  • Color connotations vary (sometimes dramatically) between cultures.

Further learning:

Emily Meriam is a pro at exploiting color connotations and associations. You can learn more about how she does it in the following articles: Creating a meaningful temperature palette and Sunset Colormapping.

You can find more videos like these in the Quick Cartography playlist.

Data sources:

The data in these videos comes from the following sources:

Occasional Contributor III

FYI, the provided links don't actually have any subtitles.  The "Connotations" video has no captions or captions button.  The "Associations" video has a captions button, but it's disabled.

Great videos, otherwise, though!  You never know too much to refresh your basics.

Esri Contributor

Hi @MErikReedAugusta , thanks for letting me know. Something was set wrong on the connotations video, and I have fixed it. For both videos, you need to click the settings button and choose English,and also turn the captions button on:


Occasional Contributor III

Oh. That's a slightly weird UX choice!

Thanks for letting me know for the future, and glad you were able to fix the other one.

About the Author
Cartographer and Content Engineer on the Learn ArcGIS team at Esri.