In the world of both web and graphic design, the strategic use of colours has always been a crucial element for creating optimal engagement with an audience. Based on which colour combination is selected, attention can be drawn in a manner of ways. A well thought-out palette allows businesses to effectively connect with their demographic, resulting in a positive brand impact and increased conversion rates.

The power of contrast

Contrast can be utilised to direct focus, uphold consistency and spark intrigue through a visually stimulating experience. Whether a company would like to attain these attributes through web presence or print collateral, giving proper consideration to contrast when planning a colour strategy is useful for both mediums.

The subtlety of blending

Blending happens when a palette is fitted with colours that mesh together naturally, resulting in a near seamless projection. Blending is contrast used in a very minimalistic, controlled approach. Normally, a blending palette is used to attract the eyes via a soothing aesthetic. Muted, pastel-driven choices can accomplish this.

Colour palette

Establishing a palette

Before brainstorming on which colours to select, it’s important to understand the various methods in which contrast can be achieved. Hues and shades/tinting are two primary concepts to digest before moving forward.

  • Hues are the twelve staple colours on a basic colour wheel (three primary colours, three secondary colours and six tertiary colours). Every colour palette development strategy begins with hue selection. Fundamentally, certain pairings of these hues in their natural state create a compelling contrast, such as orange and blue or green and purple. Conversely, there are combinations which are visually repellant, such as green and yellow or red and orange. However, with the proper use of shades or tinting, most hue combinations can be successful.
  • Shades and tinting are acquired through the process of using hues on a light-to-dark or dark-to-light basis. For instance, this may occur when a light blue is paired with darker blues (achieved by adding black), or vice versa (achieved by adding white, aka tinting). Shades and tinting are effective tools for leading the eyes in a specific direction or creating a harmonic visual presentation.

Defining your message through colour

Just as words can communicate emotions, colours can also play on the human senses – which is why leading brands consider their colour choices very seriously. Warm tones such as red, orange and yellow represent many different concepts – heat or danger being two of the most common. This is why it’s common for companies in the food industry to incorporate some of these tones into their branding.

Take, for instance, McDonalds; their logo consists of two golden arches resting against a red background – they’re capitalizing on hot tones, which translates to heat, which in turn relates to feelings of hunger.

On the other side of the spectrum, tones such as light blue or grey can convey equally powerful concepts such as coolness or indifference. Exposure to blue light in particular stimulates alertness, which is particularly relevant when it comes to our usage of sites dominated by the colour blue. Monochromatic designs can be equally artistic and clean.

Meanwhile, greens are typically seen as warm and trustworthy, evoking natural imagery. The Greenpeace site, for example, is unsurprisingly dominated by the colour green, which not only makes them feel more trustworthy, but also reinforces their link with environmentalism.

Colour psychology is a vital ingredient in any successful brand or project stylization. It not only evokes feelings and emotions, but has a direct and tangible psychological impact on users. There are so many choices in every aspect of creative compositing that it can be very easy to get carried away with impulsive decisions. Take the time that is needed to consciously select the best colour strategy to represent your brand – it will be worth it in the long run!

The ‘golden’ guidelines for designing with colour:

  • Keep your palette simple – around 5 colours is a good number.
  • The colour wheel is a reference guide – not a bible.
  • Colour work calls for a light touch – not a sledgehammer. Small changes in hue, blending and contrast can make major differences to the look and feel of your design.
  • Remember the emotional and psychological power of colour, and wield it responsibly!
  • Purple on green? Just no.

(Photo by Courtney Rhodes)

Adam Parrish

Owner and creative director at Creative Freedom Ltd. Unbelievably cool icon design expert, husband, and father of two awesome girls. A proper decent chappy and thoroughly fab to work with. Ok, so I wrote my own bio…

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