Ye Olde Colour Theory


Complementary Colors

Select a single color on the wheel. Now, move directly across the wheel in a straight line. The corresponding color is complementary. Complementary colors "complete" each other. These color schemes are exercises in opposites. In a sense, blue is the "opposite" of orange; violet of yellow; green of red. In design, if a certain color is predominant the best way to control that color is by using its complement. An over-abundance of orange is offset by using blue; yellow is offset by violet and vice versa. Many designers use a split-complementary method: after selecting the complement, they move one spot to the left or right of it and use that color to contrast the first color. Split complementaries are subtle and just as effective in creating a balanced approach.



Analogous Colors

An analogous, or harmonious, color scheme involves using a color wheel. Select a single color on the wheel. Now, move one spot to the left or right of that color. The result will not be an overkill of a single color; instead, it will promote color harmony. Analogous color schemes work well when it would be difficult to truly "match" a color. These are the color schemes found in nature. A field of grass, a sunset and an animal's fur coat each demonstrate an analogous blending of similar colors, not a true "match."



Triad Colors

A triad color scheme organizes colors in regard to purity. Select a spot on the color wheel, say red. To complete the triad, draw an equilateral triangle. Wherever the points of the triangle meet, there is a relationship. In regard to red, the other points meet at blue and yellow. Think about it. Red, yellow and blue are primary colors. Now, starting at orange, trace the equilateral triangle. The remaining two points are violet and green. Orange, violet and green are secondary colors. As noted, this method creates relationships based on purity of color. When trying to affect balance in a design, consider a triad color scheme. If green is highly evident use purple with it. Note, you do not have to use all three colors in the triad to achieve the effect; two will do.


Some notes on designing with color. Stay tuned to this station for additional notes!

Using color to create rhythm

Another dynamic to consider in design is eye movement, or rhythm. How do you control a viewer's eyes through a design? This can be done in the same way a set designer plans sets for movies or stage plays. Once you have chosen the color to use, "paint" a small number of elements that create a flow from top to bottom, left to right. Let the color guide the viewer's eyes. A woman does the same thing when she wears a red hat, red belt and red shoes with a white dress. The red "moves" your eyes through the ensemble. Your eyes connect the similarity of the red and follow it, but it never really interrupts the white background.

Using color as a spice

This notion of directing the eye and punctuating the design with color is possible because, without a doubt, color is the most powerful graphic device. It should be used as a functional, palatable spice. But beware: like garlic or clove, a little color goes a long way.