In this the final article in my elements of design series, we take a look at colour. Colour can be used with any of the other elements of design and with clever use, can create mood, meaning and uniformity. It is essential that a designer learn how to use the colour wheel to create colour relationships that are appropriate to the topic. Thankfully, these days there are many tools available that can help a designer to create appropriate colour palettes; however, an understanding of basic colour theory is still required to ensure quality and appropriate results. I’ll be reviewing these tools in a future article but for now, lets begin with the foundations of colour use.
The Colour Wheel
The colour wheel is split into 12 basic hues (colours) that consist of the three primary colours (blue, yellow and red), three secondary colours and six tertiary colour.
The secondary colours are created by combining the primary colours. The tertiary colours sit halfway between the secondary and primary colours and are created by combining equal amounts of each. Additionally, the colour value changes from dark to light as you move into the centre of the wheel.
The main principle to understand is that every colour on the wheel is made up from the colour next to it. As a result, this forms the basis of creating colour relationships.
There are six main colour relationships that can be used to create a uniform colour palette.
A monochromatic colour palette is created by selecting different values (a combination of light, medium and dark) of a single colour. These combinations are easy on the eye, appear clean and have a calming or soothing effect.
Analogous colours are a combination of adjacent colours. One colour serves as the dominant while the others complement it. They have similar effects as monochromatic colour schemes; however, have slightly more colour depth.
Complementary colours sit directly across from each other on the colour wheel. Generally, this combination works best when combining cool and warm colours (blues and yellows) and is considered high contrast.
Move one step either side of a compliment colour and this will create a split complement. This combination is considered very high contrast.
This scheme uses two complimentary pairs and is the most varied of all the combinations. As a result, it can be difficult to generate an harmonious effect. It is recommended that varying values (shades) of each hue (colour) is used to achieve a favourable combination.
Triad colour schemes are created by evenly splitting the wheel into three. This scheme has good visual contrast but not as much as the complement combinations. As a result, well balanced and harmonious combinations are relatively easy to create.
How to use Colour Relationships
While there are no hard and fast rules when choosing a colour relationship, you should consider the overall feeling you are trying to convey.
Colour relationship such as Monochromatic and Analogous are generally easy to harmonise and apply. Additionally, they are calming and conservative by nature. However, they have have very little colour depth which can lead to lack of contrast if not properly considered.
Compliment, Split Complement, Double-Split Complement and Triad combinations are rich in colour depth and have high contrast which make them more dynamic. However, this can lead to colour saturation if not applied appropriately.
Colour Moods and Meanings
Colours can also have both positive and negative psychological effects on people. This is referred to as colour moods or meanings. The table below provides some common examples:
|Red||Comfort, Blood, Beauty, Love, Heat, Passion, Aggression, Battle, Anger, Hunger, Negativity|
|Blue||Cool, Peace, Faith, Knowledge, Clean, Coldness, Depression, Detachment|
|Yellow||Warmth, Hope, Wisdom, Happiness, Caution, Warning, Jealousy, Envy|
|Purple||Luxury, Sophistication, Wealth, Excess, Mourning, Indulgence|
|Orange||Social, Energy, Vibrancy, Health, Loudness, Low Class, Crass|
|Green||Money, Joy, Healing, Nature, Poison, Greed, Envy|
Colours also have different cultural meanings depending geographical location or religious belief. Therefore, careful research should be undertaking if designing for a specific group.
And that wraps up the series on the elements of design. Just remember, in order for a graphic design to communicate its message in a clear and concise manner, many factors need to be considered including using the elements of design. Furthermore, you should aim to include at least one (if not more) of these elements when creating a design.