Colour in Design

The beauty of colour is that it speaks one language.  It is the one medium we can use to communicate with universally.  If you don’t believe me look at the image below:

What words do you associate the first two images with?

p025kc7k red-roses-750

.. and how about these two?


The first two are associated with love, attraction, energy, stimulation.

The second two are associated with danger, warming, stop, cease.

Point proven?!

Colour can impact our mood, attitude, feelings and interactions so as designers we need to be careful when recommending and creating colour palettes.

colors_meaning-blog-04The colour wheel forms the basis of our understanding of colour.  Made up of primary, secondary and tertiary colours, it is the combination of these colours that creates endless opportunities for us as designers.

The colours on the wheel can be split into cool and warm.

Cool: blues, greens, purples

Warm: reds, oranges, yellows

But playing with these hues alone would just get boring!  Fortunately we can create tints (adding white), tones (adding grey) and shades (adding black) to give us different values.  Then there’s saturation, or how close a colour is to grey.



With endless options available to us, we can use these to create or influence how a space can make us feel.  It’s important to note that each one of us has a different relationship to colour – our upbringing and past experiences can influence or individual relationship with colours ie. one person may associate red with fun and celebration while another may associate it with war and hate.  As a designer it is important to be aware and understand this about a client.

Here’s a little insight into the impact different colours can have:



Red: Physical, strength, stimulation,aggression.  Red can get the heart rate going.
Blue: Intellectual, communication, trust, cold, unfriendly.  Blue is the most popular colour.
Yellow: Emotional, creativity, anxiety, irrationality.  Yellow can lift spirits but the wrong tone or amount can evoke fear and anxiety.
Green: Balance, harmony, rest, stagnation, boredom.  Green as the colour of balance.
Violet: Spiritual, vision, luxury, introversion, decadence.  Usually associated with royalty and the finest quality.
Orange: Food, comfort, security, passion, frustration, immaturity.  Orange is a fun colour made up of a combination of the emotional red and physical yellow.
Pink: Nurture, warmth, femininity, claustrophobia, physical weakness. Pink is powerful and represents survival of the species.  Too much can be draining.
Grey: Neutral, depression, lack of energy.  It’s the only colour with no psychological properties.  With absence of colour we are instinctively drawn in and prepare to hibernate.
Black: Glamour, substance, security, coldness, heaviness.  Black absorbs all the energy coming towards you.  Creates a perception of weight and seriousness.
White: Hygiene, sterile, purity, barriers, unfriendliness, elitism.  White reflects the full force of the spectrum.  Visually it gives a heightened perception of space.
Brown: Seriousness, nature, warmth, heaviness, lack of sophistication.  Brown lacks humour and has associations with the earth and nature.  It can be reliable and quietly supportive



Combining colours is another science of its own.  From understanding the colour wheel we know that Complimentary (opposite) colours work well together, Analogous (side by side) also play together nicely.  However we can also combine triadic, tetradic and split complimentary schemes to form palettes.

Put simply, there are 2 broad schemes for combining colours: related and contrasting.



Look to nature for inspiration.  Walk outside and identify with places or things you love that make you feel good.  The green of the grass, the brown of the bales of hay or the vibrant red of the poinciana trees in flower.

Also pay attention to natures colour palette:  darker colours tend to be close to the ground, the medium values surround us and the lighter values are placed high above us.

Forest Color Palette

Alternatively, look at things around your home that you have personally bought, collected or just enjoy.  Favourite clothing items, shoes, decor or art and analyse the colours in those.


Any of these ideas can help form a good basis for a palette inspiration.



Next step is to consider the space.  What size is it?  What shapes, corners, walls, entrances is it made up of? How much lighting does it have?  Who will be using the space and for what purpose?



Designing with colour is considering humans within a space, understanding the intent of the space and how it will be used.

We know colour impacts emotions and psychology however placement of colour also greatly influences our perception of spatial quality.  Placement of colour can diminish, extend, accentuate, promote or flatten a space.  Use of colour with spatial awareness can change our experience and reactions within a space.

It is just as important to have a good understanding of lighting and the effects they have on colour.  Colour samples should be tested in a space under different light conditions – both natural and artificial – to fully understand how they will appear at various times throughout the day, in the finished result.



Colour selection takes time and cannot happen successfully without considering all the factors discussed above in detail.



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