Friday, April 08, 2011

Why Picking Color is Irrelevant When Designing


When it comes to picking out colors for a visual design, what matters is often not the colors themselves. This sounds strange. Color is so central to the overall look and feel of a design. But too often people have the wrong impression when it comes to color. A designer may ask a client or boss what is their favorite color. Or the client or boss has a color scheme in mind when they approach a designer.

But honestly, a specific color choice influences a design's look and feel in ways that can be unpredictable if not understood. Because color is affected more by other factors than the color alone. Here's what I mean. You've heard that the color red represents excitement and action. Or that blue represents corporate stability, or serenity. But, what happens when you combine red with brown, or blue with pink and yellow? Suddenly, you have a whole different meaning.

So when it comes to the use of appropriate color, there are more relevant concerns than a specific color's meaning. The choice of color is determined by a few factors that have little to do with what color represents.
  • Corporate brand standards.
  • Brand consistency and hierarchy.
  • The design's structure, mood, and message.
  • The medium.
  • Production parameters and limitations.
  • Corporate politics.
  • Color percentages and combinations.
So, this is my approach when it comes to color. For logos, I design in black and white initially. (And this comes only after I understand what we are trying to achieve when it comes to mood, style, look, and message.) After a design direction is achieved, I move to color combinations, because the color should support the mood, style, and message. However, when there is a redesign of a logo, the color is already selected. Depending on the extent the client wants to redesign, the logo is adjusted with those colors in mind to retain the style and mood.

For other items like websites, or print collateral, I would take into consideration the corporate color schemes first, then consider the look and feel next. (Mind you, everything happens after discussing and understanding what the client wants to achieve.) The reason is that the corporate colors either are necessary or they give a hint of what the visual design's style or theme should be. The piece ought to match the client's established style so that their messaging will be consistent.

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