The Importance of Color in Design

9 06 2008

With so many topics related to graphic design I was struggling to decide which one to discuss first, but then it hit me … color. Color is everywhere and conveys a message even if we don’t realize it. The idea of color is also one of the least understood concepts of design. In my years as a designer one question has continued to be asked of me: ‘Why did you choose these particular colors?’ And while the surface answer can be as simple as, ‘they just felt right,’ the fact is, an experienced designer knows which colors would be best suited for that particular target market beyond just having a hunch

Let’s start by taking a trip down memory lane. At one point in time we all had an elementary art class with a brief exposure to primary, secondary and tertiary colors, but for those of us who don’t remember what that means I’ll explain. The primary colors are red, yellow and blue, although depending on the industry those colors vary slightly. Secondary colors consist of mixing two primary colors together to create a new color (i.e yellow + blue = green), and tertiary colors are created by mixing one primary color with a secondary color. It is within these three color groups that designers base their understanding of color and their best use in each industry.

At this point however, you may be thinking, ‘How do I choose the right colors?’ Well, this is where an experienced graphic designer can step in and point you in the right direction. Experienced designers know that what works in one industry may not work in another, and by applying a few basic principals they can propel your business in the right direction.

Let’s say your business is an ice cream shop and your favorite colors are brown and black. Brown evokes a sense of strength and reliability, both of which are good business traits, but brown also can convey a sense of isolation and sadness, neither of which are good for a business, especially an ice cream shop (Sensation and Perception – The Color Brown)! The same goes for the color black. It’s widely recognized for stability, but also for mourning. Not many people would associate those colors with an ice cream shop, but the point is that more often than not, people have a hard time seeing past their own personal preferences in color, which can send the wrong message to their customers. Instead, a designer is able to choose the correct colors based on the particular market to create focus, clarity and confidence in your brand and your business.

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