On color

Some of design’s most difficult conversations happen over the subjectivity of color. Let’s lean on its power and purpose to make good color decisions.

Of all the building blocks of design – typography, spacing, medium – color typically carries the most subjectivity. Individuals and audiences build connections to color over time. There’s the generic, such as “I associated red with love” and the specific, like “that color reminds me of my grandmother’s wallpaper.” There’s also associations to other design work, like IBM blue, UPS brown, or McDonald’s gold.

That equity of color that we amass over time reflects color psychology. Historically, we tend to associate blues with calm, reds with warnings, and white and black with simplicity and elegance. But not everyone sees color the same way. It’s important to consider color’s other roles when making proper selections.

In my time designing logos, posters, websites, and digital experiences, I always come back to the basics of color. These include:

  • considering how colors work with a brand’s palette,
  • creating depth and visual hierarchy with colors that have high contrast,
  • ensuring there is a dominant visual element, typically supported through color,
  • differentiating design elements from one another, and
  • considering accessibility and proper use of contrasting colors.

As I shared in my overall thoughts on design, it’s important to guide discussions on color away from the subjective and more towards how color can help improve design. Ask stakeholders for clarity on their commentary, nudging away from “I don’t like green” to “I see how that adds depth.”

Color is a powerful thing as long as we harness it properly.

Illustration: Color Vectors by Vecteezy