Design 101: Color Theory

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Design 101: Color Theory

Design 101 is a series that breaks down fundamental design concepts for everyone to understand.

Even if you aren’t a professional designer, you should still have a chance to access good and affordable design! For some people, this means that design needs to be done on your own – and we’re here to help.

By understanding some design and branding basics, you’ll be able to take control of your logo and brand design. 

Understanding Color Theory

It should come as no surprise that humans have a strong response to images and color – one of the reasons that logo colors can convey a lot about your brand personality.

From an evolutionary standpoint, we needed to see and respond to our surroundings long before we developed the written word, which is why visual content elicits a reaction. Of course, text content is also crucial in conveying information, but visual content shouldn’t be ignored.

Whether or not you consider yourself an artist, designer, or creative, effective visuals can help you create compelling, shareable, and innovative content that drives traffic and keeps your customers coming back for more.

Ready? Let Design 101 begin.

Colors & Everything In Between

Colors can be understood through three groupings: Primary, secondary, and tertiary colors.

Primary: Red, Yellow, Blue

Cannot be created by combining any other colors.

Primary colors, red, blue and yellow

Secondary: Orange, Green, Purple

Can be created by combining two primary colors. Red + Yellow = Orange, Blue + Yellow = Green, and Red + Blue = Purple.

Secondary colors of orange, green, and purple
Tertiary: Red-Orange, Yellow-Orange, Yellow-Green, Blue-Green, Blue-Violet and Red-Violet.
Can be created when you mix a primary color with a secondary color.
Tertiary colors example

Remember that color is way more complex than simply breaking it down to its names and some variants.

Colors are rich and deep, and can vary drastically depending on the core colors that make them up and the amount of black, white, or gray they embody. With these added factors, describing color becomes more complex.

  • Hue: The color that you perceive when you look at the object.
  • Shade: The hue with black added.
  • Tint: The hue with white added.
  • Saturation: The hue with both black and white added.

So, to sum up:

  • Primary colors stand alone and cannot be developed using any other color.
  • Secondary and tertiary colors are created using some combination of primary and secondary colors.
  • From there, the shade, tint, and saturation of a color (or hue) differs based on the amount of black or white that has been added.

How Complementary Colors Work

Imagine a color wheel. Complementary colors are those that sit directly across from one another and can be used to create nuanced contrast aimed at bringing out the best in both colors.

For example, red and green, blue and orange, and purple and yellow are considered complementary of one another.

However, this isn’t the only way that colors look good together. Color combinations may also be:

Analogous: Colors next to one another on the color wheel.

Triadic: Three different colors that are evenly spaced from one another on the color wheel.

Split-Complement: One base color and the two colors that are adjacent to that base color’s complement.

Monochromatic: Colors based on the same shades and tints of one hue.

Color Wheel Examples

Even different tints and shades can challenge the traditional meanings that have come to be associated with specific hues. 

Known as color context, the way that colors relate to one another depends on how they’re contrasted. For example, the same shade of green may appear darker next to a lighter color, and lighter next to a darker color.

With this in mind, consider your own branding – which colors are you using? Do they fall within basic color theory?

Effect of Color on Branding

When you’re branding your business, the colors you choose to represent your brand will make your customers feel something specific – and you want to be in control of those emotions.

These colors have an impact on the way your brand is perceived in the public arena, because each color has a certain mood and feel to it.

(For more information on this, check out our interview with Leslie Harrington!)

Understanding the interplay between colors and how they work together can allow you to cultivate an overall branding strategy, which you can apply to social media, external products, online ads – any place that you are seeking to make a visual impact!