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Totally Intuitive Tips to Design Color Combinations

Igor Ovsyannykov May 6, 2021 · 8 min read
As a designer, you think about a number of different elements before deciding on the final design. There are textures to use and patterns to choose from. You have to find the perfect font that matches your theme, as well as a few images here and there to send your audiences a clearer message. But there’s one thing that proves to be just as important (if not more important at time) as all the other elements. That’s color. What makes it challenging to choose the perfect color combination for the project you’re working on is the fact that you literally have hundreds to choose from. How do you pick out the combination that can make your design stand out? Here are a few tips that can help you out:

1. Apply a little psychology.

apply-a-little-psychology Source: A few people are still raising their eyebrows over the thought that there’s psychology in color, too. But the hundreds and thousands of successful designs cannot hide the fact that it’s true – you need to dig deep into your audience’s psyche to make your color choice as effective as possible. Green is often used for anything that’s fresh or relating to the environment. This is why you’ll see a lot of earth-friendly companies switching to this color. Red is frequently used for anything exciting and energy-filled, but it is also the preferred color for anything that symbolizes caution or danger. So what does this have to do with your design? Basically, your color choice should trigger an emotion or reaction from whoever views your design. You have to make them excited if that’s the goal, make them hungry if your design relates to food, or make them cautious when your design pertains to danger. Choose the right color and you might send the wrong signals.

2. Know who your audience is.

Every person has a distinct background, and color is involved in a lot of the things that make you who you are. In many Western cultures, for example, red is seen as a symbol of love, passion, and danger. In Asia, a lot of countries use red to depict prosperity, long life and happiness. Yellow is seen as a color of warmth and optimism in Western countries, but in Germany, people see yellow as a color of envy (an emotion that is represented by the color green in other places). Notice that colors have different symbolisms depending on where you are and who you’re talking to. Because of this, you have to make sure you are well informed about who your audience is before making the right color choices to make your audience respond accordingly.

3. Look at the branding.

pixty-app-branding-by-ramotion Pixty App Branding by Ramotion No matter how excited you are to apply a breathtaking combination, having an existing branding guide could limit your choices. Branding has to be consistent all throughout. You can’t use a certain color scheme for your logos, and a different set of colors for your marketing materials. People are going to be confused about what you really represent, and brand recall becomes a huge challenge. If there is an existing branding, make sure you stick to it no matter how revolutionary your new color scheme is.

4. Don’t overdo it.

Just because your client told you to make it colorful doesn’t mean that you can use every imaginable tint and shade on the planet. Too much color will not only make your design look messy and uncoordinated, it can also become an eyesore. Design a web page that has about 10 to 15 colors sticking out, and you’ll have people leaving the page before they can even look at your content. Three colors would be great, less is even better. You can choose a major color or two to highlight, then use another one to complement the two. You can choose more than three if absolutely necessary, but make sure they do not clash or overpower each other.

5. Play with shades and tints.

chroma Still feeling the need to add a few mote colors into the mix? No worries! Adding a few shades or tints could be the solution you’re looking for. Shades are achieved by adding black to your main color. This means that the base color you’re using will become darker. Tints, on the other hand, are achieved when you add white to the base color. This means that you’ll achieve something lighter. The great thing about using shades and tints is the fact that you’re still using the same base color, so you don’t lose consistency. However, you also get the variety that you want to add.

6. Use the right tools.

Coming up with the right color scheme becomes easier and more effective if you use the right tools. The good news is, there are a lot of free tools out there that you can take advantage of. Adobe Color is one great tool you can use to put different colors side by side and adjust each one according to the look you want to achieve. You can also browse through the color palettes other users have created, in case you need some inspiration from other creatives. Colorotate is a great app you can download from the AppStore, making it perfect for designers on the go. The great thing about this tool is in intuitiveness, allowing you to come up with color schemes based on uploaded images. Hoping to work on your computer using Photoshop instead of your iPad? Not a problem. You can connect your ColoRotate account to your Photoshop CS5 or CS6 to allow the app to automatically update background and foreground colors. You can also save the palettes you come up with on your desktop.

7. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

niessen-de-vries Source: Far too often, designers fall into the trap of relying too much on the things that inspire them that they fail to achieve a look that is truly original. This is especially true when it comes to color schemes. If you want your work to stand out through color, don’t be afraid to step out of the mold and experiment. So what if today’s trends require more subdued colors? If you feel that brighter neon shades would match the design’s ultimate goal, then go for it! Remember that trends are there because someone ahead of you dared to experiment. As a designer who has original ideas, would you rather be the one who jumps in on every trend that comes along, or the one who comes up with the trends that everyone else will follow?

8. Don’t lose sight of the basics.

Design theories may have evolved and designers may be stepping out of their comfort zones. But no matter what happens, you must never lose sight of the basics. Know what your primary, secondary and tertiary colors are. Know what complementary, analogous, triadic or monochromatic means. Find out what the difference is between a tint and a shade. Relying on your eyes (and instincts) will not cut it every time. Remember that the basics of color theory will always be the baseline. When you lose sight of what you really want to happen, going right back to color theory 101 would be the best way to pick yourself up and start thinking of fresh ideas once again.

9. Collect inspiration from everywhere.

inspiration-is-everywhere Did you stop in the middle of your walk through the park because of a jaw dropping scene that caught your eye? Take a picture of it. Remember that you have a lot of tools that allow you to upload an image and get the colors used in it. By having your own collection of these pieces of inspiration, you can have something to look back to when you feel you’ve run out of bright ideas to use.

10. Look at your Pantone set.

No matter how hard you stare at your screen, there will be times when screen colors just won’t cut it. When this happens, here’s one simple advice – take out your Pantone set from that bottom drawer and allow it to work its magic. Coming up with the right color combinations can be challenging work, but it’s not something you should lose your head over. With these tips, you can make sure every combination you use achieves the effect you’ve been hoping for all along. From there, you amplify the chances of your entire design becoming effective.
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Igor Ovsyannykov

We create fonts, graphics, and produce aesthetically pleasing photos.

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