Brown Color Meanings

Using down-to-earth brown in design

Dark Hardwood texture and materials background

 Jay's photo / Getty Images

Brown is a natural, down-to-earth neutral color. It is found in earth, wood, and stone. - Jacci Howard Bear's Desktop Publishing Colors and Color Meanings

Shades of brown include sienna, bay, sand, wood, auburn, chestnut, nut-brown, cinnamon, russet, tawny, chocolate, tan, brunette, fawn, liver-colored, mahogany, oak, bronze, terra-cotta, toast, umber, cocoa, coffee, copper, ginger, hazel, khaki, ochre and puce.

Nature and Culture of Brown

Brown is a warm neutral color that can stimulate the appetite. It is found extensively in nature in both living and non-living materials.

Brown represents wholesomeness and earthiness. While it might be considered a little on the dull side, it represents steadfastness, simplicity, friendliness, dependability, and health. Although blue is the typical corporate color, UPS has built its business around the dependability associated with brown.

Awareness ribbons that use shades of brown include: 

  • Anti-tobacco
  • Colorectal cancer

Using Shades of Brown in Print and Web Design

The color brown and its lighter cousins in tan, taupe, beige and cream make excellent backgrounds that cause accompanying colors to appear richer and brighter. Use brown to convey a feeling of warmth, honesty, and wholesomeness. Although found in nature year-round, brown is often considered a fall and winter color. It is more casual than black.

Shades of brown coupled with green are an especially earthy pair, often used to convey the concept of recycling or earth-friendly products. Very dark brown can replace black, adding a slightly warmer tone to some palettes. Brighten brown with a mellow yellow or rusty orange. Go smart but conservative with a mix of brown and deep purple, green, gray or orange-red.

Using Brown in Other Design Fields

  • Feng Shui Use of the Color Brown
  • Decorating With Brown on a Budget
  • Map Colors 

Brown in Language

Familiar phrases can help a designer see how a color might be perceived by others, both the positive and negative aspects.

Positive brown:

  • Brown bottle - beer
  • Brown - cook

Negative brown:

  • Brown-nose - someone who attempts to ingratiate themselves with people of authority
  • Brown study - someone who is aloof, indifferent
  • Brown out - partial loss of electricity