How to Choose a Successful Color Palette

The Importance of Color

As designers, we often spend the majority of our time devoted to the form and function of our creations.  Occasionally, this can lead to things like color choices becoming an afterthought.  But color deserves more credit than we sometimes give it.   Subtle differences in individual colors, and combinations of colors can have a tremendous impact on our emotions.  Color is one of the aspects of your design that is immediately experienced by  almost everyone who comes across it.  Before someone touches, or even approaches your product…they’ll see it. So learning a little bit about color theory is a great way to be sure you catch the attention of your potential buyers.

The Origins of Color Theory

Color theory is a branch of design devoted to the understanding of the various ways in which colors can be created (for example through additive or subtractive measures), how they interact with one another, and how they affect the human psyche. One of the earliest proponents of this branch of design include Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe,  who wrote a book in 1810 called Theory of Colours. But if you’re looking for a more up-to-date explanation of how we experience colors,  Contemporary Color: Theory and Use by Steven Bleicher is a great overview of the subject (and a quick read).

Color Selection Resources

If you are the kind of person who is inspired by the encounters you have throughout the day, an app like Adobe Kuler might be a useful tool for capturing those inspiring moments.  Snap a photograph, and tap the points in the picture that stand out to you to create an instant color palette that you can save and open later in Adobe Illustrator. Check out the blog  Design Seeds, written by Jessica Colaluca to see how successful using your surroundings as a source of inspiration can be.

Related Reading:  The Unexpected Museum

Another easy way to develop a palette is to start with a single inspirational color and use color harmony rules such as analogous colors (colors that are directly adjacent to each other on the color wheel) or complementary colors (colors that are directly across from each other) to create palettes.  If you’re working on developing your designs in Adobe illustrator, using the Color Guide feature can help you create palettes based on these harmony rules as well as many others.  All you have to do is set a base color and select a rule (e.g. Complementary Colors) and illustrator will create a series of palette options for you.

If you’re still in need of something a little more prescriptive, check out Pantone’s Fashion Color Report for spring 2014 to read a few expert opinions on the hottest color combinations for the current season.

Choose Carefully

None of these methods are hard and fast way of finding the most successful color palette for your project.  Before you solidify your decision, it’s imperative to apply your understanding of how colors interact with each other, and think about your clients wants and needs.  And most importantly, trust your instincts! The possibilities are endless, so start experimenting!!