There is a science to picking the colors that work well together in a design; subjective? depends
There are both scientific and subjective elements.
There is definitely a science. However, there are usually many correct options, so there is also a subjective element too, which is what makes design so awesome. Different designs call for different colors and styles, however, in all good designs there are always a few common denominators
1. Pure? Tint? Shade? Tone? Pure Colors
These are hues which are not mixed with other hues. They are typically used in bright designs. Anything youthful, summery, cheerful, energetic, cool etc. could benefit from the use of pure colors.
Tints are colors mixed with white. Tints convey a lighter, more peaceful, less energetic feeling than pure colors and are usually considered more feminine. Industries like health, spa, beauty etc. might benefit from using tints.
Shades are colors mixed with black. Shades can work well in mysterious, dark, evil or dangerous designs. They work well in gradients, when used with either a pure color or a lighter
2. Color Meanings
Certain colors can convey different feelings, depending on what part of the world your design will be viewed. Here are some feelings colors can give off in the western world:
Blue – Security and integrity or tranquility and peace.
Green – Freshness and environmental
Yellow- Energy and cheerfulness or caution
Purple – Spirituality, luxury
Pink – Romance, beauty, love, sensitivity
Tints and shades can also play a part in what feelings the color conveys. For instance, a darker shade of blue would convey more security and integrity. Lighter tints of blue would convey more tranquility and peace.
Also, some colors have acquired particular meanings over time, as a result of being repeatedly used by certain organisations or in particular ways.
For example, the catholic church uses deep shades of purple and red quite frequently. As a result, these colors can have a spiritual meaning.
Pink used to be known as a boy’s color, however, nowadays it is commonly understood to be a girl’s color. Although, in some parts of the western world, it is once again becoming normal for boy’s to wear pink clothing.
Countries have also adopted colors as their own, as have certain days and time periods. For example, in Ireland, if I saw a flyer in my doorstep today which was green, I would probably bin it immediately, thinking it was something to do with St. Patrick’s day.
3. Keep It Simple
Using too many colors is a common mistake in design. It is usually best to use one prominent color in design and offset it with a neutral color like white, gray or black. Using too many colors can be like trying to convey a million feelings and messages at once, which can confuse the person viewing your design.
For the most part, dark colors work best with bright colors. This is why most books are designed using white backgrounds and black text.
Each color has a contrast value. White is the lightest value and black is the darkest value.
Yellow and green have very light values. So using yellow or green text on a white background would be difficult to read. Yellow would work well on a dark grey or black background, which would explain why most road warning signs are yellow and black.
Blue and purple have dark color values, so these would work well on a white background, but not so good on a dark background.
So let’s say a client has come to me looking for a logo for her new company. She is starting a beauty spa which uses natural, organic products.
I know her target market is women and she is trying to convey a peaceful message, rather than an energetic one. So I know tints are the best route to take, as opposed to pure colors or shades.
Good colors to convey beauty, tranquility, peacefulness and femininity would include pink, yellow, purple and blue.
However, she really wants to drive home the fact that all her products are organic.
So I’d like to use green, as green conveys thoughts of freshness and the environment.
Now green is not the most feminine color, but we know that tints are feminine. So by using a green tint, we will be able to capture the organic, fresh feel of the green and the femininity of tints.
I also want to convey a feeling of tranquility, which we know comes from blue. So by blending tints of green and blue, we end up with a tranquil, cyan tint, suitable for our organic beauty spa aimed at the feminine market.
Science vs Subjective
Now of course there will always be people who think it’s purely subjective. Some people might think that using a dark red shade for my client’s logo background, with a dark purple shade for the logo text looks fantastic…..
However, I would have to argue that they are wrong.
There will always be exceptions, logos, designs, companies etc that defy all the rules and succeed in spite of it. But if you want to increase your design’s chances of success, learn color theory.