For the next few weeks I will be exploring color. Because of the level of importance this category holds in the world of design I can only do it justice by taking my time. This first post is on why color theory is important. I am very passionate about color and its relationship with design. Understanding the importance of color goes far beyond knowing ROY G. BIV, the colors on the color wheel, or color mixing. Color theory is a critical core element to creating a successful design. Color meanings vary by culture, circumstance, and experience, which is why delving into this area is essential. The use of color in your logos and designs will shape the successes you have with your clients and your clients’ target markets. Choosing colors solely on the basis of personal preference is a sign of a careless designer. Researching, learning, and understanding color in design is crucial if you care to be a professional designer.
Color theory is a practical way to view and categorize color usage. At its core, color theory is based on color psychology; which studies color and how it impacts human behavior and how we perceive the meaning of certain colors. These meanings come from our experiences with the world around us and shape our interpretations of every individual color and color combination we see.
Color is important in design because it is a way to communicate meaning without using words.
Color use is a way to help people feel and understand the meaning of your design by drawing only from what they initially perceive without reading the text. Color is an impressive and influential communication tool. When used correctly it can influence mood, drive decision-making, and even cause a physical or emotional reaction. Although specific color meaning can be subjective, as all art is, some elements of it remain applicable across the globe. For example, the “warm” end of the color spectrum (reds, yellows, oranges, browns) tend to evoke feelings of comfort or even anger; while the “cool” end of the spectrum (blues, purples, greys) will generally elicit a sense of calm, sadness, or ambivalence. There are positive and negative connotations to every color (also known as hue), and of those, to every tint and shade of each. Which is why exploring the meanings is so important.
How we feel about the color yellow for instance, it can make us feel happy because of the feeling of summer or sunshine. Sometimes it can make you feel scared or uneasy, especially when combined with black; this particular color combination stirs up these feelings because they may remind you of black and yellow stripes on a snake, bee, or wasp. The color green reminds us of spring and growth and life. You wouldn’t use the color black for something that you were trying to portray as vibrant and alive. You wouldn’t use gray if you were trying to illustrate happiness, as gray holds the connotation of cloudy or dreary. It is really central to graphic design that every designer know color usage so they avoid sending the wrong message. Any time a design is created [in anything but stark black-and-white] you have to consider color theory. And honestly, even if you’re designing in black-and-white chances are that you will have to understand color via grayscale in going from white to black and the different feelings and connotations that can give.
It would be a disaster if you designed a book cover for a book about having fun with your children using browns, blacks and dull blues; or if you designed a concert poster for a hardcore rock band using pinks and purples. I realize that this sounds silly because we all have a basic level of intuition built in naturally for colors.
But without truly understanding the indisputable role that color plays in design of every kind, we all have the ability to let our designs go horribly wrong.
It is a powerful tool that when used correctly, can propel you from being just a graphic designer or hobby designer, to truly being a design professional. I hope you stick with me through this series on color; I will have a useful resource for you to download for free in next week’s post! Design is a colorful world, I hope you’ll continue to join me here. Because design matters.