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Week 2: Color Theory

Posted on: Sep 12, 2017

There’s no way to really cover color theory in one blog post, especially given that some visual scholars and graphic designers spend years writing about it, but if you’d like to give it a try, I’d like to talk this week about some of the basics.  Just knowing a handful of design principles can have a huge impact on your projects, whatever they may be.

The Color Wheel

Your best friend during the design process is going to be the color wheel.   That’s because there are four basic color combinations  you can use and the wheel allows you map out all the myriad choices available within those combinations.  Plus, it keeps you from having to remember all the combinations offhand.    

For instance, you could decide to use complementary colors in your PowerPoint, in which case you would choose a particular color and then as an accent, use the color directly across from the first color you choose.  Yellow and purple are one example, but so is aqua and red-orange.  Or perhaps you’re making a business card and you want something more cohesive.  In that case, you could use analogous colors, which takes and incorporates those colors that are next to each other on the wheel.    There’s also triads, which incorporate three colors equidistant from each other.  A classic example of this is red, yellow, and blue, which you’ll often see in children’s books.  If you want something a bit less classic, then perhaps split compliment triads are more your speed, since they take the two colors surrounding the chosen colors complement, like yellow, violet, and blue-purple, to put a twist on our previous example.        

What Does it Mean?

All colors have rhetorical connotations, so whatever combination you choose will impact the viewer beyond just their eyes, though that’s important too.  After all, overloading a page with a very warm color like red is going to be both overwhelming and irritating to the eye.  For instance, red, blue, and yellow, which we already discussed, will bring to mind a child’s toy, so using it for a presentation on the opioid epidemic is probably unwise.  On the other hand, if you’re an education major and you’re putting together a presentation on elementary education, it would be entirely appropriate.   Of course, one way to get around some of these connotations is to incorporate tints and shades, which can give you the same eye-feel sans the kindergarten-esque overtones.  Tints are simply what you get when you add white to a hue (or color), while shades are the result of adding black to it.      

There’s much more to color theory, but check back next week for more design tips!


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