Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The World of Color and Basic Theory

Ahh! The beautiful world we live in full of color. Color comes from light and how it reflects off surfaces, be it paper or a computer screen. Color permeates many aspects of our lives, from what we decide to wear in the morning, to the furniture in our living room, to the paint on our walls, to the flowers we decide for our garden. As inferred, just as color has a place in our everyday lives, it has a definite role to play in graphic design. It can affect how a logo, brand, website, and/or a marketing campaign is perceived. It represents a mood, a perspective, even a message, depending on how it's applied and with what combination of colors. Hence the importance of learning basic color theory, so you can apply color principles to your design projects.

Warm and Cool Colors
Looking at the color wheel, it is arranged in a spectrum from red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. The warmest of all colors is red. If you go around the color wheel counter-clockwise, you should notice the colors become progressively cooler until it arrives at the color blue, which is the coolest of all colors. Even shades of black and white can either be classified as a warm white or cool black, or vice versa. Usually the eggshell, creamy white on our walls in most homes is considered a warm white because it has tones of red and yellow in it. Yet the white on most computer screens is a cool white because of the blue undertones in it. Having a visual understanding of warm and cool colors will help you in your color selections and application for your projects.

Complementary Colors
In order to understand complementary colors, we need to know about primary colors and secondary colors. Primary colors are red, yellow and blue. Secondary colors are orange, green and purple and are created by blending two primary colors. Complementary colors is the combination of a primary color and its counterpart — the secondary color located on the opposite side of the color wheel. Examples in the color wheel above illustrate the following complementary combinations:  red and green, blue and orange and purple and yellow. As the name implies, "complementary colors" go very well together and can be a simple, yet efficient guide as to which combinations to use in layouts.

The Itten Star
A wonderful tool I love to use in determining color combinations is the Itten Star, developed by Johannes Itten, a Swiss painter and designer and part of the Bauhaus movement. His Itten Star allows for two, three, four, five and six tones of color combinations. The Itten Star is my little secret to helping me define more than two color combinations that will work in a given layout. As you can see from the image, besides complementary, there are analogous, triad (a trio of color combinations), split complementary, tetrad (a quartet of color combinations), achromatic, and neutrals (which usually are white, black and gray) combinations. The Itten Star allows for more flexibility in creating palettes for different design projects and is quite a useful instrument in the application of color.
Below are two useful links about the Itten Star. The first link shows visual images of contrast combinations formed on the basis of the Itten Star; while the second link is a nice website about Johannes Itten — his life and his contribution to color theory and design.

Again and again, I reiterate the same principle, in that, it is the design project and its overall message which will be the driving force and ultimate guide in determining how to apply the design principle at hand. In this case, it is what colors to use which will enhance and express your design project's message most effectively!

I hope you've enjoyed these short, but informative morsels about graphic design principles. More to come over time!