Color is one the major tools of all the design arts: graphic design, web design, interior design, product design, architecture, etc. Designers spend countless hours working out color schemes for projects. I thought you might be interested in how this is done. Or at least in how I approach color selection.
How do designers choose colors?
Each project is different and each graphic designer approaches color individually. I’m beginning this series with the Media kit/poster for the Stop Tuberculosis Programme of the Western Pacific Region of the World Health Organization that was designed to accompany other kits that had already been developed.
I was given several constraints; I was asked to use brilliant, hot, bright colors and to use the same basic grid layout as had been used before.
Choosing the background color
The first choice I made was the background color: a brilliant red. This color choice was initially questioned, since it is often used in Chinese designs, while the kit would be used in many Asian countries, not only in China.
I was asked to use Chinese characters on the cover, so I thought it was appropriate to use Chinese red as well. My client and I discussed the issue (when I presented the design comps I had prepared). We came to an agreement that red would be a good choice for the overall color for the project.
After I selected the background red I experimented with accent colors. I didn’t consult any color scheme books or generators. That would not have worked for this particular project, since the client wanted all the colors used to be vibrant, which wouldn’t normally be shown in a color reference.
So I kept selecting colors and using them in my design program until I had a set of three that pleased me. I thought that red and violet would be interesting together, so I tried that combination. I had purchased the calligraphy and brush painting from the same Chinese calligrapher, and thought it would add interest to use the brush painting in the background as a pattern, as well as to do a reversed image in the left margin.
Once I was satisfied with those two colors together it was fairly simple to find a third color that worked with the first two. I needed that color that would sit above the background. Lime green worked; the calligraphy was pushed to the foreground as I intended.
I find that colors work a little like chords in music compositions. When you play them together, they produce what I call a color chord (major, minor, etc). It’s my job to add colors to the mix until the color chord is just right for the project.
Color theory reference books
Many fine books have been written on color theory. If you would like detailed information about the theories of color, these books will provide an introduction to the subject.
Interaction of Color: Revised Edition by Josef Albers
The Elements of Color by Johannes Itten
The Art of Color: The Subjective Experience and Objective Rationale of Color by Johannes Itten
Color Choices: Making Color Sense Out of Color Theory
Pantone Guide to Communicating with Color by Leatrice Eiseman
Designer’s Color Manual: The Complete Guide to Color Theory and Application
by Tom Fraser, Adam Banks
Please let me know if you have a favorite book to add to this list.