What is a good color to use to signify an inbound phone call vs a good color for an outbound phone call?

  • An outbound phone call would indicate an action that is being taken.
  • An inbound phone call would signify a more passive role in responding to an external event.

This is what I have so far. I'm thinking red for outbound since its more or an active role and blue for incoming since its more of a passive role. However I know almost nothing about color theory... enter image description here

3 Answers 3


There are a couple of points to be mindful about

  1. As Mark rightly pointed out, red is often are often used as as an visual aid to indicate failure . Often red is also used to highlight danger or error states which could cause confusion with regards to what is being indicated here.It is also a strong accent color which is used to drive a strong call to action To quote this article from color wheel

Red is the color of fire and blood, so it is associated with energy, war, danger, strength, power, determination as well as passion, desire, and love.

Red is a very emotionally intense color. It enhances human metabolism, increases respiration rate, and raises blood pressure. It has very high visibility, which is why stop signs, stoplights, and fire equipment are usually painted red. In heraldry, red is used to indicate courage. It is a color found in many national flags.

Red brings text and images to the foreground. Use it as an accent color to stimulate people to make quick decisions; it is a perfect color for 'Buy Now' or 'Click Here' buttons on Internet banners and websites Red brings text and images to the foreground. Use it as an accent color to stimulate people to make quick decisions;

  1. I strongly recommend against using colors only to highlight states since it violates accessibility guidelines as a colorblind person would not be able to see the difference. To quote the WCAG guidelines

1.4.1 Use of Color: Color is not used as the only visual means of conveying information, indicating an action, prompting a response, or distinguishing a visual element. (Level A)

Since you are denoting incoming and outgoing calls, a design you could potentially reuse is how phones handle the history for incoming and out going calls. To show how Android does it

enter image description here

Here is how iOS does it

enter image description here

In both cases the applications use a combination of colors and opposing icons. I would suggesting using a similar metaphor along with opposing icons and text to highlight which were the outgoing and incoming calls.

  • This is basically the same suggestion I made. Thanks for clarifying with images, it does make the answer more impactful.
    – Mark
    Aug 24, 2016 at 11:51

I don't think color theory would give an objective answer to your question, since the meaning ascribed to various colors is dependent on culture and nationality.

The colors for active and passive actions are typically chosen to allow the active action to stand out. I definitely wouldn't keep the blue and red color scheme you presently have as they both give the appearance of active actions. I would suggest using a primary 'brand' color for the active action (outbound phone call) and a light grey or similarly muted color for the passive action (inbound phone call).

If you have already selected colors for primary (active) and secondary (passive) buttons in your interface you can probably reuse that color scheme here.


Green conveys success and red conveys error or unsuccessful states.

I would not use red unless your attempting to adopt these conventions, especially because both android and iOS utilize these conventions within their own call history, something users on these platforms will be accustom to seeing.

A better representation for inbound/outbound would be to use the icon. For example: right arrow for outbound calls and left arrow for inbound calls. Then like Andre Dickson mention you could use brand for active/outbound and gray for inbound. Alternatively you can use color to convey the success or failure of the inbound/outbound call. For example a successful outbound call could be represented by a green right arrow, and a missed inbound call would be a red left arrow.

An exception to this would be if your design must consider multinational color interpretations or accessibility, but since you have not mentioned this my guess is this is not a requirement.

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