Tinted Love: A Foray into Colour Design Theory

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Colour provides an instant, emotive message that can provoke our more primal instincts. A number of studies have been taken around the world by colleges to distinguish exactly how much colour affects us and, the short answer is: a lot. The application of colour in design is a way of communicating to someone, without necessarily using words. Following on from my last article, Design Principles for Beginners, we will now be taking a brief foray into the world of colour.

Any agency that is tasked with producing creative content for its clients will need to have a solid understanding of colour and its application, whether it be applied for crafting a website, or producing a good old fashioned piece of printed literature on crafted paper. Colour and contrast was a pivotal role in the rebrand of Fast Web Media, and the result of different colour usage is always considered whilst completing client work.


For any budding designers, or any like minded agency folk who wish to gain an understanding on exactly why their designers are so passionate about colour, a good place to start for understanding and inspiration is the colour wheel. As its name suggests, the colour wheel is a circular representation of the colour spectrum. The circular aspect helps us to match colours together, and to classify them depending on where they sit on the wheel.

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We are all, hopefully, familiar with the primary colours of red, blue and yellow and how they can be mixed in equal measures to create the secondary colours of orange, purple and green. When a primary and a secondary colour are then mixed in equal measures, we end up with a tertiary colour. You will see in the diagram how these all blend from one to another. These tertiary colours can be categorised further into four main groups: hot, warm, cool and cold.

When designing, you can create what are known as tonal variations to any colour, by increasing the amount of black or white. When you add black you create ‘shades’ of that colour, and with white you create ‘tints’. Think about the last time you shopped for paint; how many shades of grey did you encounter? I’d argue there were probably more than fifty.

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Source: pantone.com


So far so good, we now know how to identify and create variations of a single colour. It starts to get really interesting when you start combining colours in your design to create a palette or a colour scheme. There are many reasons as to why a certain colour palette works on the page. Colour palettes create a strong sense of consistency, so should not be underestimated when choosing your own brand’s scheme.

A monochromatic palette is created from a single colour, but uses tonal varieties of that one colour by adding less or more white and black. In brand identity design, it is always advisable to keep things as simple as possible for the user.

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An example of a monochromatic palette.

A sympathetic palette uses neighbouring colours from the colour wheel. With the four main classifications, the colours will instantly create a feeling for your design; warmth or heat for example. Clothing company Wrangler has recently created a fantastic one page website to commemorate 70 years of the brand that uses a pleasing sympathetic colour theme. See how nicely the colours all fade into one another?

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Slightly more challenging is the use of a complementary colour palette. This is where two colours are selected that face off from one another on opposite sides of the colour wheel. Shocking pink and arsenic anyone? Whilst they are very striking, opposites really do attract and create some of the most exciting of contrasts.

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All of the above can be complemented by the addition of a ‘neutral’ colour, such as black, white, grey or sometimes brown and beige. This may come in useful if you’re hesitant to go all out with your designs, as neutral colours won’t overpower a scheme. Another alternative is to use all neutrals and include just one colour, like in examples below:

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Source: http://swisscolors.net/


You might be thinking, “why has an American film director got his own paragraph on a blog about design?”, but Wes Anderson has become somewhat notorious for his distinctive visuals in his movies.

A combination of pastel-hues render Anderson's films seemingly dream-like, with notably muted pinks, vintage greens and warm browns to create an almost retro vibe to his productions. Wes Anderson’s colour palettes can be segmented into light, medium, dark and sit amongst a general spectrum of colors.

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Rushmore, 1988. Colour palette by Movies in Colour.

In fact, Wes Anderson has played such an influential role in terms of colour palette creations, an entire Tumblr has been set-up and dedicated to the director to illustrate some of his most notable works. You can scroll through, arguably, the most aesthetically pleasing Tumblr account here


Embrace your inner designer and don’t be afraid to experiment with your colour choices. Live in a somewhat idyllic, pastel Wes Anderson world, or be brave and introduce clashing, bold colours to make a statement.

If you or your organisation is considering mixing it up with your design, why not get in touch? We’ve got your perfect shade waiting...


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