The Right

September, 2017

Design Spy
The Color Wheel
Color Schemes
Graphic Design


Choosing the right colors plays a major role in the message and personality of any design or brand. While the meanings of color are largely subjective, they are critical to effective design. This article will help you to create beautiful and effective color schemes with meaning and purpose!

Here is a list of common color meanings for your consideration: 

Blue: Wisdom, Confidence, Security, Stability, Loyalty, Friendliness, Preservation, Courage, Science, Communicative, Trustworthy, Calming, Depressed.

Purple: Royalty, Majesty, Independent, Different, Feminine, Spiritual, Mysterious.

Red: Danger, Excitement, Energy, Power, Vigor, Leadership, Courage, Passion, Activity, Joy.

Pink: Romantic, Feminine, Love, Beauty, Sentimental, Exciting.

Orange: Cheerful, Fresh, Youthful, Adventurous, Passion, Pleasure, Enthusiasm, Fascination, Creativity, Fun.

Yellow: Optimism, Childish, Freshness, Law, Education, Arrogance, Playful, Happy.

Green: Natural, Calming, Trees, Wealth, Prestige, Ambition, Endurance, Healing, Calm, Generosity, Completion, Protection, Vitality.

Brown: Nature, Simple, Organic, Wholesome, Honest, Home, Earth.

Black: Powerful, Mysterious, Elegance, Sophistication, Functionality, Formal, Luxurious, Mourning, Serious.

White: Simplicity, Innocence, Intelligence, Minimalism, Clean, Purity, Hope.

Of course there are many nuanced ways to communicate using color in your design. Our list of common color meanings can give you starting point for delivering your message with the right emphasis, energy, and emotion.

While there may be no intrinsic meaning to colors, whether we like it or not, meanings are culturally assigned based on how they are most often used. This doesn’t mean that you cannot take chances either. In fact, I recommend that you do! Mix things up, establish new ideas and take chances!

Contrast of meaning can also play a role in communicating abstract ideas, just keep in mind that commonly held associations are a powerful force.

Ready to add some color and energy to your design or brand?

Choosing the “right” color for your design or brand can be challenging, but it is important. Spend some time considering the colors that you think best represent the purpose of your design or your company. Here are some helpful questions:

  • What words do you feel represent the character and personality of your company?
  • What colors in the above list best represent those words?
  • What color best suits the qualites and traits of your product / service?
  • What colors are your direct and most successful competitors using?

Remember, color affects your viewer on many levels, and while your design can’t rely on color alone to convey your message, your color choices are one of the first things that people will notice and may well determine the overall success of your design.

Not only do individual colors have meaning, the combination of colors into schemes can create additional meaning. In addition, colors play a role in setting the mood, establishing hierarchies, and creating the overall theme of your design.


The color wheel, based on the primary colors of red, yellow and blue, is traditional in the field of art. The earliest recorded circular color model was developed by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666. Artists and scientists alike have developed many variations on this concept over time. The one you see here is a the most commonly used model with twelve segments that are broken into three categories of colors:

1. Primary
2. Secondary
3. Tertiary

The earliest recorded circular color model was developed by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666
In traditional color theory (used in painting and other pigment based art), the primary colors are the 3 pigment colors that cannot be formed by combining other colors. All other colors on the color wheel are derived from these three hues.

Secondary colors are hues that are formed by mixing two primary colors together.

Red + Yellow = Orange
Yellow + Blue = Green
Blue + Red = Violet (Purple)


Tertiary colors are formed by mixing a primary and a secondary color together. That is the reason that these colors are given a two word name.

Captain Obvious here.


Warm colors are commonly said to be hues from yellow to red, browns and tans included; cool colors are often said to be hues from green to violet, most grays included.

Warm colors, as the name indicates, generally make you think of warm things such as sunshine or fire while cool colors are associated with snow, shadows, etc. More than this, it is also important to understand the role they play in perceiving perspective, distance, and closeness of objects or planes. Warm colors are radiant and tend to look closer while cool colors recess and look farther away.

Warm Colors
Cool Colors

Color Harmony

Certain color combinations evoke a feeling of harmony and balance, while others can create a sense of chaos, dissonance. Some combinations are so unstimulating, that they feel bland or boring, while on the opposite extreme, so chaotic that a person can barely stand looking at it.

Organizing color combinations using the following formulas (color schemes), will help you to create color harmony and bring greater visual interest and a sense of balance to your color design work.

Monochromatic Colors

Monochromatic color schemes are comprised of variant tines, shades and tones derived from a single hue. These may be the most basic color schemes you can create, however they are an adaptable option for any type of design.

Since you are working from a single hue, it is fairly easy to create a layout that is pleasing to the eye. This color scheme creates a harmonious, visually cohesive look that is effective without being overwhelming.

Tip: While technically not monochromatic, consider adding an extra pop of color to add visual interest to your design. This is especially effective to draw attention to a logo, highlight important information, or in creating a call to action.

Complimentary Color Scheme

Colors that are on opposite sides of the color wheel are considered to be complementary. They always contain one cool and one warm hue. This means they are the colors with the most contrast.

Tip: Using complimentary colors right next to each other can be a little overwhelming and may appear to vibrate along their borders. This can be remedied by including negative space between them, or by mixing together small amounts of the opposite color between them as a more neutral transitional color.

Analogous Color Scheme

Analogous schemes use colors that are beside each other on the color wheel. Often found in nature, these combinations tend to provoke feelings of balance, calm, and flow. It is nearly impossible for the colors to clash. On the other hand, it can be a challenge to create enough variety.

In their pure form, analogous color schemes produce colors each with the same strength (chroma level). Remember, you can always add variety to them by using tints, tones, and shades.

Tip: Choose in advance which will be the main color that you will be using the most in your design.

Triadic Color Scheme

Just as it sounds, triadic color schemes are composed of three colors on separate ends of the spectrum. This vibrant combination produces tones that compliment each other, while adding vivacious / contrasting roles to your design.

This scheme can be challenging to pull off, but adds striking visual effects to your design when they are.

Tip: Choose a dominant color. Then, after choosing your initial color scheme, experiment with adding a very small amount of your dominant color to the two related colors to give a more cohesive feeling to your palette.

Split Complimentary Color Scheme

Split-complementary uses one base color and two secondary colors. This gives strong visual contrast like the complementary color scheme, with less tension and more space for balancing warm and cold colors.

This scheme adds more complexity than a standard complementary schemes. Avoid choosing de-saturated warm colors (e.g. browns or dull yellows), as this tends to muddy up this scheme.

Tip: The secondary colors should only be used only for highlights and accents. For greater flexibility, various shades or tints of all colors could be added to the scheme as well.

Rectangle Color Scheme

Like the square color scheme, the rectangle scheme uses four colors arranged into two complementary pairs. The difference is how close or far apart these two color pairs are on the color wheel.

This rich color scheme offers more color variety than any other scheme and is also the hardest to balance. It is usually best to choose one color as dominant and let the others accent.

Tip: Avoid using pure colors in equal amounts. Subdue one or more colors by mixing in a small amount of another color from within the scheme.

Square Color Scheme

The square scheme is made up of two complementary color pairs that are evenly spaced around the color wheel. Between each color are two other colors not used in the scheme.

As in the rectangle color scheme, it is best to choose one color as dominant and let the others accent. Also pay close attention to your use of warm and cool colors as well as value of color in your design. With so many colors in play, it is important to maintain balance.

Tip: Try using muted versions of your accent colors to keep the design from becoming too busy.

I hope you have found this basic color study helpful in moving you forward with your use of color and in creating your color palettes.

I think the three most important things to remember when it comes to choosing colors are:

1. Have a strong intention and sense of purpose.

2. Be clear about the overall feeling you want to convey.

3. Know your intended audience and the message you are communicating to them.

If you keep these three things in mind, you can move forward with confidence that your colors will add meaning, purpose, and clear direction to your design.


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