Colors and visuals are powerful ways for effective communication.
In fact, colors influence people’s moods, behaviors, and emotions; and hence, can affect branding and marketing.
Therefore, it is important for product designers to use colors carefully and purposefully. But how would you know which color or set of colors to use for your product, branding, and marketing?
What color(s) would best describe your purpose and grab the attention of your consumers?
Learning color theory will help you figure that out. This theory encompasses cultural associations, human perception, and color psychology.
In this article, I’ll explain the color theory, how it is connected to the psychology of colors, the models included in this, and more.
What Is Color Theory?
Color theory is a vast field of knowledge that includes rules and guidelines about the combinations of various colors and their uses. It will help you create smart and effective designs.
Color theory is an important part of human-computer interaction. It is similar to other elements, such as typography, where designers should choose colors carefully. In this theory, you will learn to use a combination of colors to communicate well with your customers and users through different color schemes in the visual interfaces.
There is a color wheel that helps you pick the right color combination for your application. In 1666, Sir Isaac Newton established the theory of colors when he invented the concept of the color wheel. He categorized the colors into three groups:
Primary (red, blue, yellow)
Secondary (combinations of primary colors)
Tertiary (combinations of primary and secondary colors)
This categorization helps people distinguish colors as per their requirements. It also has some properties:
Hue: How it appears (for example, red)
Chroma: How pure it is (for example, if the color has shades, black color is added; if the color has tints, white color is added; if the color has tones, grey color is added)
Lighting: How saturated or pale it appears
How Is the Psychology of Colors Connected to Color Theory?
The psychology of colors is an important part while learning color theory. When you, as a designer, select a UX color palette for the product, you generally think of the things they visualize. But, it is equally important to think about the feeling too.
Color has a robust psychological influence on the human brain. Each color represents different emotions and meanings for the users. Well, you will not find any particular meaning of a color that’s a perfect fit for every human.
Let’s discuss how color evokes feelings in most people:
Red: Red describes importance, love, and danger. It is also known as the color of energy. If you simply look into this color, it can increase pulse, heart rate, and metabolism. Red is an excellent color to grab visitors’ attention quickly. You can use it to highlight the important elements on your web page.
Green: Green describes success, nature, and growth. It is a fantastic color for eco-friendly products, for instance. It is a popular color used by many professionals in their interfaces, giving a signal to the users that an operation has been completed successfully.
Orange: Orange describes fun, optimism, and energy. It gives a vibe that is energetic and positive. Many companies use this color in their inexpensive products to highlight the best prices in e-commerce stores.
Blue: Blue describes comfort, calmness, relaxation, and trust. Brands trust this color as people have a good impression and inner security about blue in general.
Yellow: Yellow describes warmth, attention, and happiness. You can view the color even from a long distance. Therefore, it is often used in cabs and banners to attract customers from a distance.
Purple: Purple describes wisdom, creativity, and luxury. It is usually linked to luxury and royal products.
White: White describes health, innocence, and cleanliness. It often makes us think about a healthy and normal lifestyle. This color is widely used in medical industries to suggest product safety. It is also used in other industries to represent simplicity.
Black: Black describes sophistication, mystery, and power. Most of the brands limit black to accents and text. Black is prominent on fashion websites as it conveys a feeling of luxury.
It’s suggested to use colors according to gender and age. You must check who your customer is before going for color preferences.
To match gender and color in general, here are a few points to consider:
Blue has the highest preference for men and in some women also.
Girl children choose pink as their favorite color.
Yellow, orange, and brown are not the colors that men or women generally choose.
Men prefer gentle, contrasting, and bright colors. Women prefer softer colors.
Similarly, the psychology of colors is also associated with age and color. Young people always prefer colors with longer wavelengths, like bright colors. But older people choose shorter wavelengths.
By understanding the psychology of colors, you can better use the right color for your UI design. Here are some tips that will help you do that:
Decide how and when to use soft and vibrant colors.
Always remember the accessibility.
Avoid low-contrast text.
Before you start combining colors, you need to learn about the different natures of colors. First comes tangible colors that are the surface of the objects and the second one is produced by light, like beams of TV.
These natures create two models through which color wheel is formed.
Additive Color Model
Subtractive Color Model
#1. Additive Color Model
This model considers red, blue, and green as the primary colors. Hence, it is known as the RGB color system. Whatever colors you see on the screen are generated from this model. Combining these primary colors in equal proportions produces secondary colors, such as magenta, yellow, and cyan.
The more light color you add, the lighter and brighter the color becomes. The more color you add, the closer you will get to white. For computers, it s created using scales, 0-255, where black would be R=0, G=0, and B=0 and white would be R=255, G=255, and B=255.
#2. Subtractive Color Model
This model obtains color by subtracting light. It includes two color systems. The first one is RYB (Red, Yellow and Blue), also known as the artistic system used in art education. It is the basis for the modern color theory that tells that cyan, magenta, and yellow are effective colors to combine.
The second one is the CMY color model which is especially used in printing. When the photochemical printing includes black ink, the model is changed to the CMYK model, i.e., cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The shade closest to the black color would be muddy brown.
CMYK works on a 0-100 scale. You will get the black color if C=100, M=100, Y=100, and K=100. If C=M=Y=K=0, you end up with white.
Basics of Color Wheel
Understanding the color wheel is as exciting as the new packet of crayons. If you are able to understand the processes and terms that go with the colors, you can easily communicate your need and vision with the printer, designer, etc.
Professionals, artists, and designers use this concept to develop color schemes. The wheel consists of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. If you draw a line through the center of the color wheel, you will be able to separate the cool colors (different blues, greens, and purples) from warm colors (different reds, oranges, and yellows).
Cool colors are associated with calm, serenity, and peace, whereas warm colors are often identified with brightness, action, and energy. Choosing a color combination on a computer involves a wider range of colors which is even more than 12 colors.
In the color wheel concept, you will need to recognize the temperature of the colors so that you can understand how cool and warm colors impacts your logo design or brand impression.
Visualizing colors in the wheel is easy and helps you choose the right color schemes. This will show how a single color relates to another color that comes next to it on a color scale that consists of rainbow colors (in order of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet).
The wheel allows you to create brighter, softer, darker, and lighter colors by mixing grey, black, and white with the original colors. These mixes create color variants as follows:
Hue: All the primary and secondary colors are hues in the color wheel. While combining primary colors to create a secondary color, hue is a crucial term to remember. Hue consists of other colors inside it, so if you don’t use two primary hues to mix them, you won’t generate the hue of secondary color.
Shade: Shade is a common term for dark and light versions of the hue. Technically, it is the color you get when you add black to the given hue. For example, red + black = burgundy.
Tone: Tone is also known as saturation, where you can add black and white (or grey) to a color to generate a tone. Saturation is often used to create digital images.
Tint: A tint is just the opposite term of shade. Here, you need to add white to the color so that the resulting color can have a range of shades and tints. For example, red + white = pink.
You need to strategically place colors in your images to optimize your user experience. The color choices used in your attractive interfaces have high usability.
Here are different color schemes:
In the monochromatic color schemes, a single color is used with varying tints and shades to generate a consistent look and feel. It lacks color contrast and often ends up looking well-polished and very clean.
It lets you easily change the lightness and darkness of your colors. They are often used for graphs and charts, while creating a graph doesn’t require a high-contrast color.
In analogous color schemes, one main color is paired with the two adjacent colors on the color wheel. If you wish to use a five-color scheme, you can add other colors adjacent to the outside colors.
It is used to create less contrasting and softer designs as it doesn’t create themes with the high contrasting colors. This color scheme creates cooler (blues, greens, and purples) or warmer (yellows, reds, and oranges) color palettes. It is often used to design images instead of bar charts or infographics.
A complementary color scheme uses two colors opposite one another in the color wheel and relevant tints on that colors. It provides high color contrast. You must be careful while using this scheme due to this greater contrast.
Moreover, it is great for graphs and charts. High contrast allows you to highlight important markings and points.
Apart from three main color schemes, other color schemes are used to generate the best-ever color options for your infographics, charts, graphs, and images. They are as follows:
Split complementary: It includes one dominant color and the other two colors adjacent to the first color’s complement directly. It is difficult to balance, so it needs more time to create.
Triadic: It retains the same tone of the color while offering high-contrast color schemes. It is created by using three colors placed equally in lines across the color wheel.
Square: This scheme uses four colors placed equidistance from each other in the color wheel. It is of great use in creating interest in your web designs.
Rectangle: It is also called a tetradic color scheme. The rectangle approach is likely similar to the square approach but offers a subtle approach to selecting colors. It gives you more flexibility in choosing the right color for the graphics you need.
Benefits of Color Theory
Color matters more and plays a pivotal role in our visual experiences.
Let’s see how.
People put more importance on visual factors while purchasing products.
People make a subconscious judgment about a product within some seconds of initial viewing. A more attractive piece is likely to be sold within some minutes.
Colors enhance brand recognition.
A picture is worth a thousand words, and hence, a picture with attractive colors is worth a million. Colors help people to process images and store them efficiently in their memory.
Thus, product owners and designers should care about color theory as they deal with branding, marketing, and sales.
How Does Color Theory Impacts a Designer’s and Marketer’s Choice?
In UX design, designers need a firm grasp of this theory to craft meaningful and harmonious user designs.
Thus, color theory is both the art and science of using color. It describes how humans think of colors, the visual effects of color combinations, and how to contrast or match with each other. Study says that people take only 90 seconds to make a judgement in their subconscious mind about a product.
So, the right combination of colors can be useful in improving your product conversion and usability. Color inspires us to relax, feel passionate about something, and take action. It tells a story about the product.
With color visuals, you can judge the product. Let’s take the example of Mountain Dew, a fresh energy drink. To justify its tagline, the company chooses the color very wisely i.e., an intense lime green color that looks like a neon hue. The neon hue tells you that this drink is associated with energy.
Therefore, color can be used to communicate and evoke emotions or feelings. Whether it’s a brand logo, a catchy slogan, or an attractive brand name, people always recognize your brand with the colors you have used in your application.
Recommended Books: Color Theory
#1. Color Psychology by Richards G. Lewis
It will help you discover the effects and meanings of colors.
Color is one of the important tools that designers love to play with. Understanding color theory can help you use the color wheel and color schemes wisely. Though it is tricky to master colors, using the rules and guidelines of color theory can help you choose colors complimenting the graphics you use.
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