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Understanding Colour Basics For Your Design

11th Jun 2020

An important part of any design process is within colour choice, but it may be important to understand the basics of using colour within this process to ensure you’re maximizing how that colour is being used - for this purpose, colour is used as a form of communication and getting it right could change how your design is received - in larger scale work such as an exhibition stand, your colour may need to be bold and simple to attract attention, in contrast a small leaflet may not need the same approach as visibility is less of a requirement.

  • Colour basics - it’s important to outline a few quick basics for colours as they can be split into three groups. Primary colours are red, yellow, and blue - the building blocks for others. Secondary colours come from a mix of the primary, for example red and yellow would make orange. Tertiary colours are further mixed through primary and secondary colours to create complex colours.

There are also divisions here too once you get into tints and shades which come through the use of black and white - adding white tints a colour, adding black shades a colour. These are used to create colour schemes - Monochromatic which uses a base colour with shades and tints for a very clean look. Complimentary uses opposite colours that work well together, red and green for example. Triad schemes use colours equally spaced around the colour wheel to create diversity in colour.

It’s important to understand these basics - for a banner design, for example, a monochromatic approach may be more suitable than a triad scheme approach as visibility is your goal whilst sending your message, not complexity.

  • Choosing the right colour - so now you understand the basics, how do you choose the right colour? That largely comes down to context and contrast. We know that bright, warm colours are often associated with happiness, we know strong pure colours can be bold and stand out. Research your audience and the message you’re trying to send, and use colours that suit that message.
  • Colour misconceptions - it’s important to understand misconceptions around both of these points for colour too. You may have read that colour can invoke emotion, such as green invoking envy or red invoking anger - but there is no basis or evidence to back this claim, particularly within design. Typically colour is impacted by personal experience or cultural shifts - if you think the colour red fits your tone and message, don’t be afraid that it risks sending a certain message.

Similarly for gender and age preferences - these thoughts are true. Whilst males may typically prefer a blue, and women typically preferring purple, there are exceptions to the rule but for a general approach you can be sure these are safe choices. Similarly the age of your audience may impact the colour choice you use, it has been shown an older audience for example may prefer blues, greens, and purples whilst also disliking reds, oranges, and yellows.

Overall colour choice can be difficult and fickle, whilst it may work with one campaign or show it may not work with others - no one person will ever get their colour choice right every single time so the best advice may be to experiment and see what works with your medium. If you’re ever unsure there are many services to help with banner design for example in which experts can suggest the best approach, and may help you adjust future designs based on the experience received from being able to take a look in from the outside and not being so close to the direct process.