Understanding Seasonal Colors: How Do They Affect Us?

An image of the same cherry blossom tree in winter, spring, summer, and fall

Every season has its own distinct energy. And whether you’re hoping to lean into the vibrant energy of summer or the reflective calm of winter, nothing gets you into a seasonal spirit quite like the right color palette.

We’ve ascribed meaning to seasonal colors, but these shades have an undeniable impact on us, too. Here’s a closer look at how seasonal colors shape our moods.

The Colors of the Seasons and Their Effects on Us

Images of the four seasons formatted as arrows

Each of the four seasons has a seemingly never-ending color palette. Here, we’ve selected three representative colors for each season:

Spring Colors: Light, Soft Shades

Yellow and purple wildflowers bloom in new green grass in spring

Spring is a season of hope, renewal, and new life. Appropriately, many spring colors might make you think of new leaf buds, fresh blooms, and a touch of warm sun.

Light Green

If there’s a single color that captures the spirit of springtime, it’s this one. Green stands for the new shoots of grass that come up after the last frost, the leaves slowly reappearing on the trees, and the stems of flowers.

When we see green — especially the soft shades typically associated with the spring season — we often feel refreshed. Green manages to be both relaxing and rejuvenating, so it’s perfect for elevating your mood and channeling the energy of the new season.

Soft Yellow

Yellow might be regarded as a summery color, but softer, pastel shades fit in beautifully with traditional spring palettes. Pale yellow might remind you of the warm (but not scorching) spring sun, or of blooming daffodils and freesias. It imparts a gentle energy that’s sure to revitalize you.

Pastel Pink

Spring is a season of real blooms and soft floral designs alike. Pink is probably the shade most of us picture first when we imagine flowers. When you see a beautiful shade of baby pink, you’ll be reminded of the light scent of new blossoms.

Summer Colors: Bright Bursts of Energy

Golden sun on a field in summer

Summer, like spring, is one of the warmer seasons. But just as summer’s heat is more intense than that of spring, summer colors are usually brighter, more saturated, and generally more energetic.

Bright Yellow

Bright yellow might be the most summery color of them all. After all, plenty of summer designs show a vivid, saturated yellow sun. This bright color can uplift your mood and help spark creativity. But too much can have a negative effect — some research suggests that too much exposure to the color yellow can cause nausea and dizziness.


Aside from the sun, water might be the thing people most closely associate with summer. Teal is a wonderfully deep blue-green that mirrors the color of the ocean. On its own, teal can have a soothing, grounding effect. But when used in contrast with cool white and/or bright yellow, it’s perfect for creating highly energetic designs.


Shades of cool, crisp white are often right at home in a summer palette. After all, it’s the color of ocean whitecaps and of bright sunlight. By itself, this neutral might not make you think of summer. But when you pair white with contrasting colors (especially shades of blue), you’ll get a striking pattern that will remind you and your audience of the warmest season.

Fall Colors: Fiery Foliage

A forest in full fall color along the shore of a lake

Fall is a season famous for its spectacular colors. Even if you see these fiery shades outside of the realm of changing leaves, they’ll have a profound effect on you. Here are three classic fall colors.

Burnt Orange

Orange is one of the most energetic colors of fall. Some turning leaves are a bold, bright shade of orange. Others have a slightly muted cast that makes them a great fit for interior design, graphic design, clothing, etc.

Orange is a color linked to creativity and optimism, but ultra-bright oranges can be overwhelming. Burnt orange is a little easier on the eyes, and it also has a certain centering earthiness.

Golden Yellow

Like orange, yellow can be overwhelming if it’s too bright (or present in very large quantities). But in autumn, you don’t often see leaves that are bright lemon yellow. Rather, they have a rich, golden tinge. As a result, golden yellow can conjure both the general coziness of fall and the refreshing crispness of an October breeze.

Deep Red

Along with yellow and orange, red is one of the quintessential colors of a fall palette. In particular, deep, slightly purplish reds have a balanced, earthy energy that’s right at home beside shades of golden yellow and burnt orange.

Winter Colors: Shades of Cool

A sunrise over a snowy mountain forest in winter

Of all seasons, winter is probably the least colorful. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create beautifully nuanced, winter-inspired color palettes. Here are three winter colors sure to make you think of chilly winter air.

Cool White

You already saw that shades of cool white do well in summer color palettes. But depending on the context, they also can remind you of the snowy winter season. If you pair cool white with shades of gray and dark green, it’s much more likely to make you think of winter than summer!

Icy Blue

When most people imagine winter, they picture snow and ice. Of course, ice is technically clear, but light shades of gray-blue have an icy cast that makes them ideal for winter palettes. They might make you think of a blast of winter wind or the stillness of a frozen pond.

Pine Green

Green might be a color you associate more closely with spring than winter. But while light, refreshing green shades tend to dominate spring color palettes, many wintery palettes feature deep pine green. In winter, most trees lose their leaves, making the dark, cool color of evergreens that much more noticeable.

Different Seasons, Different Color Preferences

Fall pumpkins, flannel, and a candle in front of warm wood paneling

Color psychology is an emerging field (at least as far as research volume is concerned). That means we’re in an exciting time, as researchers are investigating phenomena we may not have previously thought of.

One interesting study published in Cognitive Science discovered something that might come as a surprise — people’s color preferences tend to shift depending on the season. The most noticeable change came in autumn, when more people leaned toward darker, warmer colors.

But why? The researchers hypothesized that seasonal color associations might be responsible. To understand why, you need to be familiar with something called ecological valence theory.

Despite the highly scientific name, the idea behind ecological valence theory is simple. It holds that people’s color preferences are primarily shaped by two things:

  • The objects or experiences they associate with that color
  • How they feel about those objects and experiences

Here’s an example. Let’s say that you have fond memories of playing soccer as a child, and your team wore red jerseys. Under this theory, that would make you more likely to be partial to red as an adult. But if you were in a serious car accident that happened as the result of a speeding red car, you might not be especially fond of the color.

Of course, most of us have more than one association with a given color. This is where the seasons come in. Imagine a dark, rich brown with a reddish undertone.

In the fall and winter, you might think of the shell of a hazelnut or the lacquered wood of a mantle. Both of these things will give you a warm, cozy feeling. So in cooler weather, you might feel drawn to the deep brown.

In the summer, you don’t often see (or focus on) deeper colors like this. However, you might see more roaches than you would in the winter. As a result, you might immediately associate the deep brown with cockroaches and decide you don’t like the color very much.

Does Our Perception of Colors Vary With the Season?

A split image of a tree - one side in spring and the other in winter

Seasonal colors have powerful psychological effects on us. But have you ever stopped to wonder if our perception of color stays the same from season to season?

The answer here might seem obvious. Why would our vision shift with the seasons? However, fairly recent research suggests that we see colors slightly differently depending on the season.

You might wonder how researchers came to that conclusion. In this particular study (conducted by the University of York in Britain), they started with a shade called “unique yellow.” Unique yellow contains no green and no red. And unlike with some other colors, large populations of people seem to all perceive unique yellow the same way.

Study participants were then placed in dark rooms, where they adjusted colorimeters until they reached the color they thought was unique yellow. This process was repeated twice: once in summer and once in winter. The researchers observed that the average value participants set on the colorimeter was substantially different depending on the season.

They found that, at least in this case, color perception was influenced by the surrounding environment. During summer in Britain, the world is filled with vast amounts of green that influence people’s perceptions of yellow. In winter, the gray and barren landscape might mean a slightly different color appears to be “true” yellow.

Lauren Welbourne, the study’s lead author, noted that this change was “a bit like changing the color balance on your TV.”

Why Do Seasonal Colors Matter?

Illustration of a single tree divided into winter, spring, summer, and fall foliage

As you can see, there’s more to seasonal shades than meets the eye. But what difference can these colors make in your own life?

If you’re planning a design scheme for your home, colors from certain seasons can alter your mood for the better. For instance, if your living room is full of deep, earthy, autumn-inspired colors, it will have a cozy, ensconcing feel.

If you’re a graphic designer, understanding how seasonal colors influence your audience’s emotions can help you create the right kind of content for your goals. For instance, if you’re looking to create a refreshing vibe, light and lively spring shades might be the answer. Either way, you’ll certainly have fun working with these four classic palettes!