As a designer, choosing colors for a project is one of the more pleasurable aspects of developing a site or designing for print. Over the years, I’ve developed a great admiration for the sway of color and its ability to influence us. Therefore, I love the challenge of creating an effective visual experience with color.

Purple Robe Locust limbs in front of plum tree.

Purple Robe Locust limbs in front of plum-tree.

Color, of course, is all around us and it strongly affects how we feel and what we think. For instance, it’s said that the color red increases one’s appetite. Also, the color yellow stimulates mental activity; it increases decision-making, organization and good judgement. However, note that there are negative associations with color as well and that culture influences how color is perceived. Case in point, navy blue, dark purple and black can be interpreted as depressing. And, in many western countries the color white is associated with purity, but in some eastern countries it is associated with death.

Because designers have studied color theory, it’s often left up to the designer to use color to communicate a specific mood. Thus, it is the designer’s responsibility to know what colors to draw on and in what order and proportions to create a desired mood, to convey an idea or to elicit an appropriate response. So, how do designers choose colors for a project?

Selecting Colors

A good client survey will ask the client about the “feel” or “mood” of the project. That is our attempt to capture specific key words that will guide the design, and the choice of images and colors for the project. Thus, a client’s response can include any number of emotion-loaded words:

  • Luxury
  • Professional
  • Nostalgic
  • Calm
  • Welcoming

Capturing the emotion of the project is an important step in the design process. Hence, if a client neglects to complete this area of the client survey or the client is hesitant to commit to a feeling for the project, I will continue to probe them with questions about the “feel” of the project until responses begin to congeal on a few key words. If your designer is not asking these questions, make sure you emphasize these emotional key words.

Working with the Client

Recently, in a client survey, a client indicated that he wanted to communicate that his organization is professional, trustworthy, knowledgeable and caring. Also, he asked that I include two colors in the design of his website: navy and white.

His choice of navy and white excited me, because blue is my favorite color and I am well aware of the emotions associated with it. That is, choose blue if you want your audience to perceive you as:

  • Trustworthy
  • Strong
  • Authoritative
  • Peaceful
  • Dependable
  • Tranquil

Furthermore, using navy as the main color and white as a secondary color meant that I could fill out the rest of the color scheme with a few more accent colors that would produce the specific mood my client wants his audience to experience. For instance, another color associated with professionals is gray or tonal blacks. The “business world” is highly sensitive to color and grays are the perfect neutral backdrop. If I am looking to add a sense of caring to the project, I could include a red-yellow combination like orange or amber, as they are associated with “friendliness” and “welcome” respectively.

The Color Proposal

Color scheme with blue, gray, red and white

A color scheme for the main color navy.

Once, I have a scheme or two that I think best suit the project; I play around with the proportions from light to dark to find the most effective combination. Lastly, if the project is a website, I send a color proposal to the client. However, f the project is for print, I include the colors in the draft or comprehensive for approval. Why?

Color is too important a tool to let wait until the end of the project. It’s an opportunity to communicate your message without the use of words. So, work with your designer to create an effective mood for your project in the prototyping or comprehensive stage. If you and the designer agree on the colors for the project early, you won’t waste time or money.