Color is an enormously powerful part of human
experience and, therefore, one of the most potent
tools available to the designer—like music, it plays
directly on the emotions. Color can be used to
evoke a mood, grab attention, identify a product
or organize information. Luckily for us, there’s no
shortage of colorful sources for inspiration.
NATURE AS INSPIRATION
For example, when designing a brochure for a sports
drink manufacturer, the strategy may be to base the
design around a theme of exercise and refreshment.
It’ll require some hot colors, and the desert is a good
place for heat … .
Using the Eyedropper tool in Photoshop—or
any graphics application—sample colors from quality
photos of desert landscapes. Then, using a broad
brush, create your palette. This method was used to create the palettes for The Designer’s Toolkit:
1000 Colors, Thousands of Color Combinations
(see figures 1a-c).
As the appearance of a color will always be
affected by adjacent colors, the 11 colors of the
palette shown in "Nature as Inspiration" were applied to a simple
graphic to show how they look in various juxtapositions.
And as these colors were sampled from
a photo, they originally were a bit too naturalistic
for our palette. To make the colors pop, they were
intensified in Photoshop, primarily using the Hue/Saturation tool.
Work on the basic layout and styling. Test out
your newly created color combinations. To emphasize
the theme of exercise and refreshment in the
example below, the athlete pictured—who has
just completed a workout—appears amongst the hot
colors in order to contrast with the one sitting on the ball, who is now suitably refreshed. Working through
these options also allows you to evaluate the legibility
of colored text.
ART AS INSPIRATION
Inspiration for color palettes can come from art as
well as nature. In the palette in figure 2a, the inspiration
was art deco. Twelve colors (figure 2a) were
sampled from images of interiors, ceramics or glassware,
and each produced a very different result.
Simply sampling colors is not an end in itself,
particularly if the sampled photo was taken in a setting
where lighting had a significant effect on the
original colors. Be sure to review your palette upon
making your selections, and tweak colors where
necessary—after all, the objective is to use art deco as
inspiration and to get the spirit of the period, not to
create an academically accurate record.
EMOTION AS INSPIRATION
When creating a palette based on something nebulous
like emotion, it is not always possible to simply
sample an image. You may find a couple colors on a
makeup pack, or perhaps something from a magazine.
But even if you create the color scheme from
scratch, it is still useful to experiment with your
selections in palette form so you can evaluate how
they’ll behave together.
The palette (figure 3a) is based around the
theme of love, but avoids the more obvious pretty
pinks, and instead uses creams, peach, pale purple
Sampling a screened image
When you run the Eyedropper tool over a previously
printed image, particularly if it is low resolution, the
color you pick up may not be what you expect—as
you will probably be selecting one of the halftone
dots that have created the color. The solution is
to use the Gaussian Blur tool to soften the image
before you sample.
We live in a world saturated by color. It is brought
into our homes by the media. We are assaulted by
color in every supermarket and shopping mall. So
when you see an interesting color scheme, take a
snapshot with your cell phone or camera. Save an
image from the internet or scan a magazine page
and create your own library of palettes. The perfect
palette may be in your own backyard.