color theory

Color Theory in Different Design Disciplines

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You’ve probably heard that colors have a powerful effect on human mood and behavior, but do you know just how far contemporary designers have taken the art of color mixing? Hail color theory, the modern-day equivalent of alchemy – at least in the design arena.

The art and science behind the impact of color on human perception, color theory is used across industries to boost sales and ensure sustainability and long-term growth. But how exactly is color theory applied in different industries, and what are its basic principles?

Color Theory Basics: Color Wheel Revisited

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The color wheel is the cornerstone of color theory. Devised by Sir Isaac Newton back in 1666, the color wheel consists of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors.

Primary colors include red, yellow, and blue. Secondary colors are made by mixing primary colors and they comprise green, orange, and purple, and tertiary colors are obtained by mixing primary and secondary hues.

The color wheel is a solid starting point for entry-level design experiments, but if you want to get the biggest visual bang for your buck, you should take into account some other color features which impact human perception of different designs.

Color Lingo Demystified: What’s in A Color

color theory lingo

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Colors are sometimes classified according to temperature. Warm colors such as red, yellow, and purple are associated with energy, brightness, and action, whereas cool colors such as blue and white mostly connote ease, peace, and serenity.

Similarly, the term tint is used to denote a color to which white has been added, shades are the result of mixing solids and black, and tones are colors to which both white and black have been added.

Other useful terms you’ll need in color mixing experiments with design apps and tools include saturation (color intensity), lightness (perceived brightness of a color as against pure white), and hue (the extent to which a color can be described in relation to the colors of the rainbow).

ABC of Color Schemes: The Right Tonal Fit

By combining different colors, designers get customized colorways, and these are classified into complementary, analogous, and triadic color schemes.

Complementary colors are found on the opposite sides of the color wheel (for example, red and green), and they are marked by intense contrast and clear demarcation between objects.

Analogous colors, on the other hand, sit side by side on the color wheel, and this color scheme is a better option if you want to cajole the viewer to take action by following subtle color cues as pictured in an image.

Finally, triadic color schemes are comprised of three different tones found at equal distance from each other on the color wheel, and they’re mostly dynamic, lively, and optimally suited for images where contrast, harmony, and visibility of elements are equally important.

Psychology of Color: What Colors Feel Like


According to the principles of color psychology, different hues affect human mood and behavior in different ways.

For instance, red is associated with energy and action and it’s often used in food industry to stimulate appetite, but it’s also closely linked to aggression and blood imagery, which is why it’s often found in warnings as an attention-grabbing accent.

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Yellow, on the other hand, denotes warmth and liveliness and it can efficiently draw attention if paired with a neutral such as black or white, which is why it’s used on school buses, taxis, and safety gear.

color theory

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Similarly, orange is perceived as dynamic and stimulating and it’s often found on construction, safety, and hunting equipment, whereas blue is commonly associated with professionalism and tranquility and it’s often deployed in industries where attention to detail is of utmost importance, such as law and administration.

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Green symbolizes prosperity, creativity, and unity with the environment which is why it’s often found on the packaging of organic food and beauty products, but it’s also commonly used as an accent by brands in creative industries such as graphic design.

Brown is a natural color commonly used in shared office space design to achieve a sense of stability and calmness, and it’s also frequently used as a secondary or accent tone in luxury packaging.

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Purple is mostly used in fashion and beauty to achieve a sense of luxury, femininity, and intimacy. Black and white are neutrals deployed by brands regardless of industry as a soothing backdrop (white) or for emphatic and contrasting purposes (black).

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Colors are a marketer’s reliable tool in pursuit of increased turnover, growth, and sustainability, and the range of color scheme generators and other design software is steadily increasing which means that even greenhorns can now become self-made graphic designers in a matter of weeks or months.

Ready to use colors to your brand’s advantage? Use the guidelines above as a broad signpost in your color mixing experiments and let color theory win your company an edge on the increasingly competitive market. Ready, steady, go paint your brand in the colors of success!

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Chloe Taylor

Chloe is a young designer, blogger and a huge fan of social media. She enjoys learning and writing about design, art and psychology related topics. Her biggest dream is to travel the whole world and take stunning photographs of beautiful places. You can find Chloe on FB and Twitter.

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