The Influence of Color Theory

| By Grace Ricci

Whether we are developing a new brand identity, updating a website, or laying out an advertisement, color is an integral part of our days. Applying color in a wide array of applications can be challenging and art directors excel at interpretation of color. The art directors at Reuben Rink execute designs for a diverse set of clients every day, and in this blog post we explore the influence color has on their design philosophies.

Influence of color theoryHow do you understand color theory?

Keith Hutchens, Senior Art Director – Color theory is not just something I understand in principle – I use that knowledge every day when selecting color palettes for projects. Color selection is an integral part of design. Colors need to relate to one another, to be harmonious and pleasing to the eye. The design should be engaging and should create a sense of order and balance. It should deliver visual interest. Without this harmony, a design can fall flat and be under-stimulating – or be inappropriate for the message or audience.

Where does your inspiration come from?

Jay Mclain, Digital Art Director – My inspiration comes in different forms, whether it’s an image, a particular sentiment, or a relationship I am attempting to create with the audience. I usually flip through color groupings or refer to graphical pieces that convey similar messages in order to get my mind going in the right direction.

How do you choose a color palette for a project?

Keith – Before creating a color palette, I like to gather background information on the brand or product. My goal when choosing a color palette is to reflect the brand’s personality and to connect to the audience. When rebranding the Winston-Salem Chamber, I developed a logo system for each service area, designating colors for departments. This color system allows the Chamber to present various programs in a unified and cohesive way – without deviating from the personality of the Chamber.

Jay – I start every project with an understanding of the strategy and message of the overall project. When I understand whom and what the project is communicating, it drives my decisions about graphic elements and color. I typically start with a primary color as the basis, and then select the remaining colors based on harmony and overall brand identity.

How does the client’s industry play into your choice of color?

Jay – The industry should not be a key motivator in color decisions. I believe that it all comes back to brand strategy. An industry may typically defer to a general color palette, such as yellow and black for construction. But if your brand is attempting to differentiate them in the market, you should try and break out of the industry norm.

How closely do you follow color trends, such as Pantone’s Forecasts or color-use in fashion, etc.?

Keith – I follow color trends very closely. I look at Pantone’s Forecasts regularly, gaining insights on colors trends across all media. This includes trends in the fashion world and even in products we see every day.

Jay – I follow color trends to some extent. Some colors that become “trendy” do not apply to every brand message. The purpose of graphic design is to build on communication. Colors trends certainly impact my designs, but I do not let what is trendy determine a color palette. Color trends can fall out of fashion quickly and may be good for projects with a short-self life. If a project has to endure, I’ll choose a more evergreen palette that will resonate for years.

Do you approach color application differently for digital projects?

Jay – When selecting colors for digital projects, I typically adjust the contrast between colors. Colors that shine in print often look “muddy” on screen, turning slightly gray. Often that difference can be rather dramatic. When selecting colors, you really have to preview them on a few different displays or devices in order to make sure there isn’t an overly dramatic shift and determine whether they will complement each other on any screen. In the image you can see how there are differences in the colors based on different monitors.

 Digital Monitor Color Comparision Digital Projects

What other considerations come into play when selecting colors?

Keith – Colors should speak to the audience. It isn’t enough to have a good layout; you need to put together a package with impeccable design, color, emotion, and confidence.

Jay – Color brings a message or visual to life. Much like music, color can convey or create an emotional reaction. It not only brings visual harmony but can create conflict within a work of art, as well. Choosing the appropriate colors determines how users react to your product, message, and brand. Color can make a graphic beautiful. But if the graphic just looks good and doesn’t communicate, it serves no purpose.

Still a bit lost on all this color talk? We can help! Contact us to see how we can help with any of your marketing and advertising needs.


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