Research: Colour

Colour can be one of the most effective communicating tools in a design. It not only appeals to the eye in a decorative way, but can also attract attention, change mood, persuade and shape how we see and interpret things.

Here’s a bit of basic science first…

Colour can be reproduced by emitting light (additive) as on computer screens, and reflecting light (subtractive) as on a book cover and basically everything else that is not a screen. Additive colour works by mixing different wavelengths of light. Red Green and Blue the primary colours in this system. Subtractive colour uses the primary colours Cyan, Magenta and Yellow. Colour in this system is perceived through the way the human eye detects the different wavelengths reflected by different pigments.

Colours can be used powerfully in design because of the meanings and values that we culturally associate with them. Often they carry expressive and sub conscious emotional value for viewers.


Brand logos are renowned for using colour in clever ways to incite trust and reliability in their brand. Here are a few of the cultural connotations that colours hold:

Blue= Trustworthy, loyalty, wisdom, science, can also be cold and unhappy

Green= Wealth, money, nature, healing

Red= Passion, energy, power, sometimes anger, leadership

Yellow= Optimism, childish, education, fresh

Pink= Romance, feminine, love, beauty

Orange= Cheerful, creativity, fun, enthusiasm

Black= Powerful, mysterious, elegance

White= Purity, clean, soft, fresh

Brown= Earthy, rustic

These are just some of the many meanings associated with certain colours. However colours cultural perception and context play a huge part in how viewers interpret colours.

When used together, certain colours can create pleasing and powerful relationships. Colour wheels help us to see these relationships between colours:


Monochromatic colours are the variations of a single shade of colour. Analogous colours are related colours that are positioned next to each other on the colour wheel. They provide richer and more varied relationships. Complementary colours are ones that are opposite to each other on the colour wheel and have contrasting warm and cold values. Triadic colours are three colours spaced equally around the wheel and are vibrant and harmonious.

Colour can also be referred to in terms of hue, saturation and brightness:

Hue = The position on the colour wheel i.e. the actual colour.

Saturation = how saturated/rich a colour is. Low saturation means less colour (grey).

Brightness = How bright a colour is. 0% brightness will be black while 100% brightness is the colour at it’s full.

In my image, I want to use greens and browns to represent the environmental ideas behind my article and create a fresh and simple palate. Colour will play an important roll in gaining the right emotional response.



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