How important is colour in design?
Colour can make you look away or draw you in. It has the power to create an emotion as powerful as music can. Colour helps us instantly understand our environment. It is intrinsically important to our everyday life. It is all around us all the time and helps us to relate and to respond to our world, even if we generally take it for granted.
We are trichromats. This means we as humans have three distinct types of receptor cells in our retina, each being sensitive to different light properties , or specifically, to red, green and blue colour. Humans are estimated to be able to see 10 million different colours because of these three little receptors. Some animals have 5 different receptor cells. The mid boggles at what they can see.
Colour theory is the science behind understanding what colour is and how it is essential in culture, communication and everyday life. In design, the wrong colours can cripple your marketing, even if all other elements are perfect.
Colour theory – Just the Basics
The Colour wheel is the easiest way to understand how colours relate to each other as we see them. They are divided up into :
Primary colours – red, yellow blue
Secondary colours – the combination of the primary colours – orange, green, purple
Tertiary colours are the blends between the primary and secondary colours.
Colour terms indicate in what state the colour is in.
Hue or colour: Generally describes the basic, pure colour.
Shade: a hue darkened with black
Tone: a hue dulled with grey
Tint: a hue lightened with white
Saturation: refers to the intensity or purity of a
Value: refers to the lightness or darkness of a colour
Monochromatic: various shades, tones, or tints of one colour; for instance, a range of blues varying from light to dark; this type of scheme is more subtle and conservative
Analogous: hues that are side by side on the colour wheel; this type of scheme is versatile and easy to apply to design projects
Complementary: opposites on the colour wheel, such as red/green or blue/orange; complementary colours are high-contrast and high-intensity, but can be difficult to apply in a balanced, harmonious way (especially in their purest form, when they can easily clash in a design)
Split-Complementary: any colour on the colour wheel plus the two that flank its complement; this scheme still has strong visual contrast, but is less jarring than a complementary colour combination
Triadic: any three colours that are evenly spaced on the colour wheel. In design, extreme unity of colours are boring and unengaging and extreme complexity of colours leads to overstimulation or confusion. The goal is harmony, a dynamic equilibrium.
Adding or subtracting light from colour helps us to understand the mixing of colour and the beginnings of how colour is created digitally. On paper, you subtract light by adding more colour thus deepening the colour and taking out the light. This is what we are taught at school but mixing in light is perhaps more intuitive and the way we physically perceive colours. It allows you to create colours by mixing red, green and blue light sources in various intensities. The more light you add, the brighter the colour mix becomes, which is the reason this mixing process is called additive and is how we mix colours on a computer.
There are a few different colour models we can use on a computer but the RGB Colour model is the most “popular” additive colour model. Each colour is described as set of Red, Green and Blue values on a scale from 0 to 255.
A subtractive printing colour model is CMYK. Each colour is represented by a corresponding value of cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks, on a scale from 0% to 100%.
To name all the many different colours, shades, tints and hues would be impossible and un-usable, so we use universal digital systems of HEX or RGB colour codes.
Symbolism of colour
It is common knowledge that colours represent meaning. For example blue is associated with calmness and a specific blue is utilised by Samsung. But it is subjective and each culture and generation will have different meanings for colour. Ensure you understand and correctly identify your target demographic before choosing your design elements.
There are however standard universal colour meanings. For eg:
Red can communicate many different ideas depending on its context. Because red is associated with fire, it can represent warmth — or danger. Since red is also the colour of blood, it’s considered an energetic, lively colour and is also associated with matters of the heart, and sometimes violence.
In some Eastern cultures, red symbolizes good fortune and prosperity and is the colour worn by brides on their wedding day. Worldwide, red has been associated with various political movements and has symbolized revolution.
In branding red often communicates strength, confidence, and power and is a highly visible colour.
Colour in design
Design, be it in the use of colour or layout, is all about balance. The more complicated the colours and the scheme, the more difficult it is to achieve balance.
Begin by identify which colour in your pallet will be the dominant and and most frequently used, which will be the accent colours to support the dominant hue and which colours will help balance the whole design. Ensure you pay attention to how the colours interact with each other especially when it comes to the ease of reading text and the mood you are creating with the colour choices.
60-30-10 is a basic, three-color palette rule that is sometimes applied to design which helps to create this harmony. Basically the dominant colour is used 60% of the time, the accent colour 30% and the balancer hue 10%. Another way to keep your colour palette simple and balanced is using shades and tints of one Hue.
Colour in marketing
The first impact a consumer has to a brand is visual and a consumer’s initial judgement of a product is largely to do with colour and harmony. Thus the choice of colour is not so much an artistic one as it is a business one and can affect every aspect from the consumers’ perception to the number of sales.
A great way to effectively pair up a brand and its ideal pallet is by describing the brand in personality terms and then giving those qualities a colour.
Simply Graphic has the benefit of creating artistically beautiful brands, while having a deep understanding and feel for business and marketing aspects of colour pallets. We place a lot of emphasis on the harmonious juxtaposition of all design elements, including colour, to create a unique personality for a specific brand. Each element is considered through experience, theory and a natural talent and design intuition. It is NOT about the personal colour preferences of either the client or the Simply Graphic designer.