Use of Color in Design, Part 2

by John
Eberhard

Last
week in part 1, I covered the importance of a color scheme and how
you can use the color wheel in selecting colors that will go well
together.

After I
sent out that article I got an email from friend and associate Jane
Millan, owner of Precision Design in San Francisco. She said:

I
might suggest in your next email mentioning the Split-complementary
Color Scheme rather than the complementary color scheme (opposites on
the wheel) which you mentioned in this email. The Complementary color
scheme does have a strong visual contrast, but because they are
opposites (thus reflecting the opposite light-wave band) there is a
lot of tension in a color scheme like that (hard on the eye if used
predominantly).Color Wheel Graphic

“The split-complementary color scheme is a
variation of the complementary color scheme. In addition to the base
color, it uses the two colors adjacent to its complement, rather than
its complement.

“This color scheme has the same strong
visual contrast as the complementary color scheme, but has less
tension. It’s also hard for beginners to mess up.

“Also, I
might mention warm vs. cool colors. A great rule of thumb (and one
that isn’t generally known or used, but I use it) is that if you
use a predominantly warm palette (lots of oranges, yellows, reds)
that you use 20% cool (blues, blue-greens). And vice versa. This
gives a very dynamic feel to a palette. There are of course
bluey-oranges and reddish-blues, etc. so this can be played with a
lot, but the 80-20 rule is a great rule of thumb.”

Thanks
Jane for that insight.

Here are
some excerpts from “Color Harmony” by Hieaki Chijiiwa on the
effects achieved by the use of various colors:

Red:
Red is passionate, the color of hearts and flames: it attracts our
attention, and actually speeds up the body’s metabolism. Red is
popular among the young, and pink in particular is associated with
romance. Deep red, on the other hand, looks aristocratic.

Yellow:
Yellow is lively and happy, the color of sunshine and daffodils.
Because it is to relentlessly cheerful, we tend to tire of it
quickly; an apartment painted in bright yellow would be oppressive,
but pale yellow would make it breezy and springlike.

Green:
Green is tranquil and pastoral, the color of trees and grass. Bright
green reminds us of spring and fertility, but it’s also the color
of mildew, poison, and jealousy. Dark green is an eloquent color, and
brings to mind the deep quiet of a pine forest.

Blue:
Blue is the color of the sky and the sea. Like green, it has a
calming effect, but it’s also quite powerful – the strongest of
the familiar colors after red. Light blue looks young and sporty, but
royal or navy blue has a dignified, wealthy air.

Purple:
Purple is a sophisticated color, long associated with royalty. We
don’t often see it in nature, so we think of it as an ‘artificial’
color, and find it a bit hard to take. The lighter shades of purple
have dominated women’s fashions in recent years.

Brown:
Brown is rich and fertile, like soil, and it’s also sad and
wistful, like the leaves in autumn or an October moon. Light brown,
tan, and beige give fabrics and housewares a rustic, natural look,
while dark brown suggests opulent hardwoods and leather.

White:
White is the color of purity, virginity, innocence and peace, but
it’s also associated with hospitals, sterility, and winter. The
dichotomy is also seen in white household objects: they either look
expensive (like bone china) or disposable (like paper plates).

Black:
Black is the color of night and death, and is often linked with evil
(‘black magic’). Its unorthodox appearance has made it popular
with artists, but it’s also associated with wealth and elegance
(black household items tend to look expensive).

Warm
Colors: The hues from red to yellow, including orange, pink, brown
and burgundy, are called warm colors. In fact, the wavelength of red
light is very close to that of infrared radiation, which transmits
heat. Warm colors are bright, splashy, and aggressive, like the
molten lava flowing from this crater. More than any other colors,
they attract the eye and excite our emotions.

Cool
Colors: The hues from green to violet, including blue and all the
shades of gray, are known as cool colors – perhaps because they
remind us of snow and ice, as in this photograph of a summer cruise
to Alaska. Cool colors have exactly the opposite effect as warm
colors: they slow down the body’s metabolism, and are even used in
hospitals to calm manic patients.

Light
Colors: Light shades of any color look soft and ethereal, like cotton
candy or fleecy clouds floating in the summer sky. The hue is
relatively unimportant: even shades of orange and purple have a
gossamer, fairy-tale quality.

Dark
Colors: Black and other dark shades feel heavy, like rain clouds
dense with moisture. Black, in particular, seems as strong and as
solid as the cast-iron boiler of this old-fashioned locomotive. Dark
red, dark purple, dark green and dark blue are the colors most often
associated with royalty.

Vivid
Colors: All vivid colors have powerful personalities. Red stands out
(looking at all the red in this photograph is like listening to
headphones at full volume), but blue and yellow are also vivid, and
paradoxically, so are black and white. However, when you combine two
or more vivid colors, the result is cacophony – too many voices
shouting at once.”

I
strongly recommend the “Color Harmony” book.

Good
luck with your color scheme selection.

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