Basic color theory

If you're going to be a professional in any of the creative/artistic fields, you have to understand color. We've been dealing a bit with Color Theory on our site, but now we're going to dive into something equally important - Color Psychology.

Colors affect our moods. Depending on where in the world we live, we bring with us perceptions of color based on our culture. Even within a single country alone, the "meaning" of colors have changed over time. Today, though, psychiatrists are able to pinpoint a few universal truths about color and its effect on our "psyche" (conventional psychology completely dismisses the idea that color can affect our moods).

Color is an important form of nonverbal communication. From the clothes we wear to the food we eat, color influences our choices. Our perception of the world is affected by color. Likewise, the way the world perceives us is also affected by color. In fact, color, many times, is the most significant feature of an item. Designers, therefore, cannot afford to treat color lightly.

When mixing and matching, it helps to know a little color theory. Back to kindergarten and that box of eight crayons. One exercise you likely completed was a color wheel. The wheel is made by placing the three primary colors (red, yellow, and blue, if you are working with ink) equidistant from each other on a circle. By blending the primaries you get the secondary colors: red and yellow produce orange; yellow and blue produce green; blue and red produce purple. Further blends of adjacent colors produce tertiary colors, and so on.

It is the designer's business to create a visual experience which is pleasing to the eye. The elements of visual harmony are simple to explain, yet much more difficult to practice. Harmony engages the viewer and creates an inner sense of order, a balance. Combinations fail to harmonize if they are so bland as to bore the viewer. At the other extreme, chaotic, overdone combinations will be rejected as something which the mind cannot organize or understand. Simply put, the designer must strive to achieve the balance between under-stimulation and over-stimulation. This is harmony, a dynamic equilibrium

Adjacent or analogous colors are those next to each other on the color wheel. These are harmonizing hues, since they each contain of a little of each other in themselves. They work well together, although they can appear washed out if they are too close to each other on the wheel. Adding black or white to one or both colors (creating tints or shades) can create higher contrast, solving this problem.

In addition to these basic formulas, designers must be aware of associations to colors due to cultural references, gender, age, and class differences. It is important to understand how the color has been used in a political and historical context as well as how it has been used in past and current trends. Religious and mythical implications can also effect the use of a color. Even linguistic usage (i.e. phrases like "in the red," and "moody blues") will affect how people view a color.

Why is this so vitally important? Simple - if you're creating a website that should bring ideas of nature, and all things natural you're going to stay away from purple. Because purple appears so little in the natural world, it is often seen as "artificial". However, if your site is about furnishings and opulent decoration, purple accents would be perfect - imparting ideas of royalty, luxury, wealth, and sophistication.

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