Colors, colors, and more colors

In this post, I’m going to concentrate on the online readings we had about color. They have some good suggestions about color choice. The more I play around with choosing colors for my portfolio, the more I realize that I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. For me, the parts of the articles I liked most are where the authors give some general rules about color choice. Though I’m not sure what to do with them now, I’m sure those rules are going to be handy when I get to the readings for next week on Photoshop and manipulating images.

#1) According to David Shea, [a]s a general rule of thumb, photos that have a lot of neutral or de-saturated tones with one or two strong colours make for the best palette; bright and multi-coloured photos are harder to derive pleasing results from. This makes great sense. If the colors of a site are distracting, it’s going to be difficult—especially for us historians who tend to write a lot—for visitors to go beyond the colors. Of course, hideously ugly colors will drive people away altogether.

#2) Chuck Green makes a great point about color theory: Theory that states, for example, that one color represents anger, and another represents happiness is interesting, but I’ve never figured out how to translate that information into action. I never thought about this, but he’s right. When we choose colors, we need to base our choices on concrete, “objective” sources, not some kind of vague sense that a color is aggressive or relaxing. Thus, sampling colors from a photo, a banner, or some other object associated with our subject matter is a good option. I would argue, however, that in some cases Green is wrong. I imagine it is obvious sometimes that a color can invoke an emotion or is metaphorical. I would not, for instance, use hot pink for a site that’s about a horrible tragedy. My choice is based on what I know about psychology or culture rather than color theory.

#3) Simplify the color scheme of your site. This is a recurring theme of several articles. I like it, and not just because it makes my job as a designer easier. Understated color themes, as I wrote above, do not distract from content. Also, understatement, I’m betting, looks professional.

#4) I am intrigued by Wroblewski’s idea of using nature as an inspiration for a site: “In the case of interface design, color combinations found in nature are especially useful.” Theoretically, this makes great sense. Everyone is accustomed to the colors of nature, so using those colors on a website can make users’ eyes more relaxed. I’d love for my final project to look natural. The trouble is knowing how to imitate nature. When I look at image two of the barn in Wroblewski’s article, I think to myself that the picture has such an easy choice of colors. I see blue, brown, and white. When I think about beautiful scenery, the colors are not so easily broken up. Landscapes, for example, have far more colors from which to choose, so I don’t know, at this point, how to choose three or four colors for a palette.

Right now, I’m going to take a step back and keep this idea of using nature in the back of my mind. I’ll come back to it after learning more about color and manipulation of photographs. Clearly, sampling from some digital image online or from a photograph is a good starting point for a palette.

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2 Comments on “Colors, colors, and more colors”


  1. Lazlo,

    I thought that you have a great post here: well ordered and thought out!

    I think that you are entirely correct in taking a step back, and letting ‘nature’ help in determining a color scheme. I agree that I would like my project to seem ‘natural’, but how are we supposed to do that, when we are dealing with the past? As for what I plan on using as my subject matter, the color palettes of the images aren’t exactly natural or normal. Unfortunately, they consist of sepia’s and grays!!!

    So, how are we to choose color schemes that work best for us? We are not going to use subdued corporate color schemes, nor are we going to use colors that seem to emotionally clash with our intended effect. I am sure, that as you progress on your site about Hungarian culture, you will choose some appropriate colors: what they are I have no idea. I think that with Photoshop, saturation levels, brightness and specific color values, we will be more properly equipped to choose the right palette for our projects! I hope.

    • Laszlo Says:

      Thanks for the advice. I never thought I would be thinking about color choices in a history class, but it’s going to be good for me in the long run. Good luck with your site, too.


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