Colour is a powerful communication tool
Colours evoke emotions. Different colours are associated with specific feelings and can convey everything from warmth and excitement to calm and serenity. But not all colours work well together.
Colour balance gives design visual harmony to evoke desired responses. It helps ensure that visual elements align with the intended purpose and message. When colours are well-balanced, viewers are more likely to find the design engaging.
Balance in colour usage helps guide the viewer's attention to the most important elements within a design. By using colour strategically, you can direct focus to key messages, calls to action, or focal points, enhancing the effectiveness of your communication.
We’ve put together this guide to give you a solid grasp of balancing colour, which will help you create visually appealing designs. When you understand how to choose colour combinations, your work can captivate and engage your audience.
Basics of colour balance
The fundamentals of colour balance lie in the principles of selecting, combining, and organising colours to create visual harmony and appeal. The essential aspect is a solid grasp of the colour wheel, which illustrates the relationships between colours.
It encompasses primary colours (red, blue, yellow), secondary colours (green, orange, purple), and tertiary colours (mixtures of primary and secondary hues). Understanding the colour wheel is the foundation for choosing harmonious colour combinations.
Creating visual harmony
This involves various techniques:
- Complementary colours, positioned opposite each other on the colour wheel – red and green, blue and orange, for example – can generate striking contrast and balance.
- Analogous colours, found adjacent to each other on the wheel, such as blue, blue-green, and green, offer a sense of cohesion.
- Triadic colour schemes entail selecting three colours of equal distance, resulting in a balanced and vibrant palette.
- Monochromatic schemes use different shades and tints of a single colour, yielding a soothing and visually unified effect.
- Balancing the presence of warm – red, orange, yellow – and cool colours – blue, green, purple – is another essential consideration. This equilibrium between warm and cool hues introduces contrast.
Harnessing the full potential of colour requires more than simply picking shades at random. Let’s look at ways to achieve colour balance.
Warm and cool colours
Think about the strategic use of colours from both the warm and cool ends of the colour spectrum. To delve deeper into the art of balancing warm and cool colours, it's essential to comprehend the characteristics of each group and how they can work together synergistically:
- Warm Colours: Examples include red, orange, and yellow. They exude a sense of energy and warmth are often associated with enthusiasm and vibrancy.
- Cool Colours: Think blues, greens, and purples. They evoke feelings of calmness and serenity. These colours have a tranquil and soothing quality and tend to recede visually.
Emphasis and Contrast
One effective approach is to employ warm colours strategically to emphasise focal points within your design. For instance, you can use a warm colour for a call-to-action button on a website with predominantly cool tones, creating a focal point.
Cool colours can serve as supporting or background elements, providing a sense of contrast and equilibrium by offsetting the vibrancy of warm colours.
Combining Warm and Cool Colours to Create Harmony
Designers often craft harmonious colour palettes with warm and cool colours that complement each other. You can do this with complementary or analogous colour schemes. For example, combine blue and orange (complementary) or blue, green, and teal (analogous) for a balanced palette.
Colour and Dominance
Proportional distribution and dominance of colours play a pivotal role in achieving balance. This means deciding which colour should assume the prominent role, and which colour, or colours, will serve as accents or background elements. Contrast in colours can be established by varying hue, saturation, and brightness levels, which add visual interest and balance.
- When we say ‘saturation’ we’re talking about the intensity, purity, or vividness of a colour.
High Saturation: These colours are vivid, pure, and intense. They appear vibrant and have a strong, pronounced hue. For example, a fully saturated red is a bright red.
- Low Saturation: These colours are more muted and subdued. They appear less vibrant and closer to shades of grey. Reducing saturation results in a more pastel or desaturated version of a colour.
Or go for a Strategic Balance
Balancing warm and cool colours entails orchestrating them in a way that neither group dominates the composition. Achieving this equilibrium can infuse visual intrigue and depth into your design.
Accentuate key elements
Using colour balance effectively can help accentuate critical components like headlines, calls to action, or focal points without overwhelming the composition as a whole. Consistency is equally vital; maintaining uniformity in colour usage across different elements such as text, backgrounds, and accents contributes to a sense of order and equilibrium.
Practical applications and examples
In web design, colour balance is vital for creating visually appealing and user-friendly interfaces. For instance, using a cool colour like blue for the background and warmer hues like orange for call-to-action buttons creates a striking contrast that guides the user's eye.
Example: Harley Davidson Landing Page
h2o recently built a Salesforce landing page for Harley’s Africa Eco Race, this page provides a great example of effectively using colour to create a dynamic and engaging web experience. We used black and orange, Harley-Davidson's signature colours, to establish brand identity and add a sense of energy and excitement, fitting for a race event.
The black background also accentuates the vibrant orange elements, drawing attention to key information and buttons, thus guiding the user's focus. We also strategically used contrasts to ensure vital information stands out while maintaining the adventurous and bold spirit associated with the brand and event.
The colour balance here enhances the overall user experience by blending brand identity with functional design.
Branding and Logo Design
Colour balance can make a brand stand out. For example, a health food brand might use a combination of green (symbolizing nature and wellness) with splashes of yellow (conveying energy and optimism), balancing the calmness of green with the vibrancy of yellow. The balance of colour works well, no matter the industry
Example: Essentra Branding
During the branding process for our client Essentra we created brand guidelines. These guidelines delineate a colour palette that is both versatile and strategic, aligning with the brand’s identity and reinforcing its messaging. The primary corporate red is vibrant and energetic, suggesting a dynamic and confident brand. The red is paired with a range of secondary colours, including cool greys that provide balance and sophistication.
The guidelines suggest using one full-colour set for a communication piece to create harmony and an optional highlight colour for emphasis, ensuring designs remain cohesive yet attention grabbing. This approach allows for flexibility in design while maintaining brand consistency and recognisability. The designated highlight colours serve to draw attention to key messages without overwhelming the primary brand colour, thereby achieving a visual hierarchy that is both effective and aesthetically pleasing.
Here, colour balance creates different moods in a space. A bedroom designed for relaxation might use a dominant cool colour like soft lavender, with warm accents in the form of throw pillows or artwork.
Example: h2o creative office
Balancing colour with interior design can be difficult, especially when working with non-negotiable elements and budget constraints. When we scoped out the interior design for our h2o office this was a key consideration for the colour pallet.
The interior design of the office adeptly incorporates a core colour palette that both complements the non-negotiable elements and brings warmth and vibrancy to the space. The blue carpet tiles provide a calm, stable foundation, which is offset by large areas of white and mid-grey in the ceilings, walls, desks, and storage units, creating a clean and modern aesthetic.
The addition of lemon-yellow seating and pod units infuses the space with an energetic and uplifting atmosphere, which is artfully balanced by the warmth of orange cushions. This splash of warm colours against the cool blue flooring creates a lively contrast that stimulates engagement and creativity.
Natural slatted wooden walls introduce an organic touch, grounding the space and enriching the overall design. This element acts as a focal point, drawing the eye and providing a counterbalance to the more industrial materials used throughout. The wooden texture also adds a sense of warmth that complements the yellow and orange tones.
The chosen colour scheme here demonstrates that a limited palette does not restrict the potential for a visually appealing and cohesive interior. Instead, the careful selection and placement of colours have led to an environment that feels both intentional and inviting, conducive to productivity and well-being.
Our office doors are always open, so if you want to see the application of colour for yourself, pop down and say hello. You can find us here.
Advertising and marketing materials
For an advertisement, the strategic use of colour balance can direct attention to the most important information. A promotional poster might use a vibrant red to highlight the main message, balanced with a neutral background to avoid overwhelming the viewer.
Example: Sophos Advertising
For our client Sophos we created an advertising campaign that used colour and visual storytelling to evoke a playful and inspirational tone.
Above are some examples from that campaign. The first image combines a soft teal background with a child in aviator gear, using the text's white and orange to stand out and convey a message of value and quality. The second image uses a warm beige backdrop, contrasting with the orange of the text, highlighting a creative and adventurous spirit. Both images use the child's imaginative play to symbolise the potential and innovation of IT security, encouraging viewers to engage with the product through a blend of nostalgia and aspiration.
Understanding and applying colour balance is crucial across various fields. It's not just about making things 'look pretty'; it's about using colours to effectively communicate, evoke emotions, and guide viewer perception. The key is to experiment and find the right balance that aligns with the intended message and audience.
Top industry tips and tricks
Achieving colour balance is both an art and a science. The suggestions here serve as valuable tools to elevate your creative projects. By mastering the nuances of colour, you can create designs that captivate and resonate with your audience.
Create Mood Boards
Begin your projects by assembling mood boards with colour swatches, images, and inspirations. This visual guide will help you refine your colour palette and achieve a harmonious look.
Ensure that there is enough contrast between text and background colours for readability, especially in web and graphic design. Strive for a balance that allows key elements to stand out.
Put it to the Test
Consider how colours appear in various lighting conditions. What looks balanced under natural light may appear differently under artificial lighting. Test your colour choices in different environments to ensure consistency.
You should also test for accessibility, which means making sure that colour choices are legible to all users, including those with colour vision impairments. For more information, check out the standards of the Web Accessibility Initiatives.
Put Colour in Context
Colour context refers to how the perception and interpretation of a colour are influenced by its surroundings. We mentioned lighting already, but consider other factors such as adjacent colours and environment. For instance, the same colour may appear distinct under varying backgrounds. Furthermore, a colour can hold diverse meanings or associations contingent upon cultural norms, industry standards, or prevailing trends. To illustrate, the colour red may symbolise love, danger, or authority, depending on its contextual placement. The colours you choose need to make sense, in other words.
You should also consider colours in a cultural context. Colours can hold different meanings and perceptions to different cultures, thereby influencing the effectiveness of colour balance in design. A few minutes of online research can tell you what colours mean to your targeted audience.
Achieving colour balance is an artful skill that transcends creative disciplines. It's a delicate dance between logic and intuition, where colours come together to convey messages, evoke emotions, and create visual harmony. Colour balance opens the door to a world of endless design possibilities.
Remember that colour balance is not a one-size-fits-all concept. It's a dynamic and evolving process that responds to context, culture, and creativity. So, embrace the tips and tricks from industry experts, seek inspiration from the world around you, and don't be afraid to push the boundaries of colour in your creative endeavours.
Ultimately, achieving colour balance empowers you to communicate your message with impact, create memorable experiences, and infuse your work with a timeless sense of beauty and equilibrium.
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