Color Theory Influences Design

By: Amanda Ray Filed under: Gaming & Technology

December 6, 2014

colored chalk

Color is at the base of all design and color theory teaches designers in all fields how to use the medium to their advantage. “Color theory really is an expansive, as well as fascinating, realm to explore,” says Austin Pittman, an instructor at The Art Institute of Indianapolis. Pittman teaches a variety of courses, which includes Color Theory. It all starts with the color wheel, a color circle based on the three primary colors – red, yellow, and blue. Isaac Newton developed the first color circle in 1666, a reminder that color theory has a long history.

History of color theory

“Color theory is something that has evolved over 30,000 years of time,” says Jill Morton, a color psychologist and branding expert color consultant. “It’s not something that people just came up with. Our ancestors drew images on the inside of caves and that began our visual language. With color theory, we go way back in time.”

Kelly Berg, interior designer and color expert, also stresses that color theory is by no means a new invention. She says that the great thinkers like Leonardo da Vinci and Aristotle, developed color systems.

“Humans have been creating organizational systems for color since the beginning of time,” she adds. “And each one of these color systems is in essence a representation of its creator's own theories. I think it's interesting how we've somehow created one or two standardized systems, when there are so many other ways of thinking about color.”

Psychology of color theory

Also evident when it comes to color is that it is a crucial component of design and creates an emotional response by the people viewing it.

“Everything designed - by human or nature - has a color and every color creates an emotional response,” Berg says. “Humans feel and experience color on a very deep psychological level. Sometimes we are conscious of our responses, sometimes we are not. Either way, color profoundly affects our experiences in this world on a minute to minute basis.”

While she says there is no universal meaning for any color, Morton says the psychological component to humans’ response to color can be subliminal. For example, because red is the color of fire and blood, it can signify danger. So a red stop sign triggers the appropriate response in people.

“If the sign was pale blue, you would have a conflict,” Morton says.

However, she adds personal preference plays a huge role in color selection. But that can be a mistake when designing for projects and clients.

“One of the biggest mistakes people make is they let personal preference determine the colors,” Morton says. “That’s okay in painting or sculpture because that is self expression. But when you’re in the design field where you’re designing for other people, you can’t let personal preference get in the way.”

She cites as an example the CEO of a bank choosing his favorite color, purple, as the predominant color choice for a new logo. But if the bank is trying to attract customers from the Baby Boom generation, purple may not be the best choice because Morton says it tends to signify spirituality to that generation.

Design and color theory

It also depends on the type of design. While color theory plays a huge role in all types of design, the process of choosing colors is different when designing a room versus designing product packaging.

“Color is absolutely more important in some design fields than others,” Pittman says. “I believe that a good understanding will assist an artist in all fields of design, but depending on the role that color plays within that field, it can be the end all be all.”

But no matter what type of design process, the right or wrong color can make or break the project.

“Color is important in any design role,” Berg says, adding that in packaging, color can mean the difference between a successful product launch or a complete bomb. “Imagine orange juice in a blue carton... it’s probably not going to be too successful.”

She says that for interior design, she believes color is the most important component.

“Nothing can bring together a space better than color,” Berg says. “Using the wrong colors in either a residential or commercial project can have very negative it's important to be thoughtful and thorough when designing these spaces.”

The biggest misconception about color theory, Morton says, is the perception that those outside of the industry can have about it.

“People who aren’t in design and art think color theory is a bunch of fluffy stuff and don’t take it seriously,” she says. “They don’t understand it’s a soft science. It’s based on 30,000 years of art history. Today we see more images in one day than our ancestors who lived in the middle ages saw in a lifetime. We’re constantly bombarded with what we see on the web, on television, and in ads. We have to have some type of logic behind that or it would be all chaotic.”

Author: Megan Donley

Learn more about our programs.

Request Information

By: Amanda Ray Filed under: Gaming & Technology

December 6, 2014

color theory design process graphic design