Colour theory

An introduction to colour theory

Colour is one of the, if not the most important aspects of graphics design, it creates emotion, depth, clarity, and inspires people to think, it is the most powerful tool in a designers arsenal. the correct use of colour can change a persons design drastically and create different moods and feelings, without taking the content of the design into account. Colour theory is a very experimental, by this i mean there is no correct answer however there are incorrect answers.
Colours can resemble memories and take you back to a certain part of your life, you see tartan and you remember your holiday in Scotland, an so on.. colours are the second best memory recall behind your sense of smell, seeing certain tones or group of colours can spark a part of your brain to remember what that colour belongs to.

The above images are, the coca-cola logo, the dominos logo and the google logo, however it doesn’t say the names of the companies, we use our cognitive memory to recall what these tones of colour belong to, we do this on a daily basis without knowing, we associate colours to brands, most of the time without even looking at the logo or name of the product, we will often see a purple block and pick it up, knowing that it must be a bar of cadburys chocolate..right?

Colours can be connected to a period in time, a product, a persons clothing, a cartoon character and so on…, the use of colours has been around for as long as human kind has, its first use being the ancient cave paintings, colour has derived from aspects of history, the most common use being clothing colours, but the most eccentric and experimental use of colour came with the creation of the printing press and the evolution of printers, the 1960s is when the use of abstract colour came in with the art movement; pop art.

Every era has its own colours: in the 1960s they were predominantly bright, hot, primary and crisp, while the 1980s was a time of black and chrome, when domestic interiors looked like sterile offices.– Ingledew J, the A-Z of visual ideas   

In the past decade or so i would say that the use of colour has become very clean and quiet, almost anti-experimental, i think we, the designers have come to the conclusion that colour experimentation has peaked, and we are reverting to a less vibrant, less multi colourful way of design, however we still bare in mind  the alternative colour schemes, and use them when appropriate. The Apple corporation has been a large influence in changing the way we look at colour and the way we use colour, its iPods are sold in a range of different colours across the spectrum, however there is nothing abstract about the design , they are very basic but still seem elegant, other apple products such as the iPhone, iPad and MacBooks… all resemble the same theme, that being a clean, crisp, elegant and slick design, they come in a white box with a single, simple apple logo displayed on it, the use of colours with these resemble a conservative and regal felling, the type of felling that make you want to show off your brand new purchase.



cbd 4

The Technical Details



there are a few different types of colour combination types, when used correctly will give off a certain appeal and style, the list goes:

Types of colour 

    • Analogous –  uses only one segment of the colour wheel, to gradually change a hue
    • Complimentary – opposite colours on the colour wheel that compliment each other, e.g blue and orange
    • Primary – primary colours – red, yellow, blue
    • Secondary – colour directly in between the primary colours
    • Tertiary – a hybrid between the primary and secondary colours

Types of combination 

    • Monochromatic – different shades of one colour
    • Complimentary – different shades of two colour that compliment each other (opposite on the colour wheel)
    • Split-complimentary – like complimentary colour only there is colour on either side of one of the choices, making three colours
    • Double-complimentary – again like complimentary, but chooses four colours, both on either side of the chosen colours
    • Analogous – like before, only there is choice of shade, saturation and hue
    • Triad – an equilateral triangle is formed on the colour wheel to pick a triad colour scheme


Colour psychology

Colour psychology is a relatively easy concept to grasp, there are many different uses for each colour for any given task and in any given circumstance, but you can often guess why a specific colour has been used when you see it, do you feel slightly happier, maybe a little more relaxed, the colour that signals your brain to to this is usually yellow, however this does not mean that every time you see yellow you’ll get these feelings, in america yellow is partnered with shapes like diamonds and triangles for road signs, to warn you of any upcoming dangers, so how can a colour make you happy but also signal danger? i believe that a simple change in the hue of a colour can change it’s meaning, it purpose, its emotion drastically and will change the way the audience perceives the object/specimen they are looking at.

Shoppers favourite colours

It is understood that the use of colour can change the way we view a product says ……. “insert quote”, it is usually used in architecture and room decorating to set an emotion, for instance in a kitchen the colour yellow is commonly used to set a calm and peaceful environment, in a living room neutral colours such as cream and white are used, so not to set any mood but to be a neutral environment, finally in dining room the use of colour can vary, it is suggested that the use of light, pale green (mint green) can enhance the feeling to eat and be hungry, yet sets peaceful condition to eat in.

That was using colour in houses, mostly to set a calm mood, in sales and product advertising, it is quite the opposite, bold, loud and eye-catching colours are recommended to entice the audience, for example, coca-cola use bright red to make there audience feel a sense of thirst or need for the product and not mint green in most instances the colour red that coca-cola uses often refers to danger or warning, but because of the fact it is on a product make this invalid, why would a soft drinks can be dangerous, it wouldn’t.

“Their core brand colour is red, which we involuntary believe it to mean danger and often aggression. Coca-Cola embraced the controversial colour so they would stand out from their competitors, and argued that red can also convey love, strength and desire” – emma, 23 2014

In a lot of cases for drinks companies, the colour of the advertising, label…and so on, is usually the same colour as the product itself, i.e Fanta is orange, and so is its label and identity. the same applies to Vimto and lilt…ect, except for drinks that have a dark brown/black colour, like coca-cola and Dr pepper they use the red, burgundy, mauve colour, is this to warn the consumer or is it to stand out from the oranges, purples and green on the shelf besides them.


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