This article is the 2nd in a series on Colour Theory, in which we will discuss the basics of colour theory: the colour wheel, colour harmony, and colour context.
In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the ways Colour Theory is important to your business’s identity and perceived personality, as people respond to colour instinctively and immediately. Now that we have explored why colour theory is important for your business, it’s time to consider what colour theory is at its core.
In essence, there are 3 aspects of colour theory:1
1. Colour Wheel
The colour wheel is a circular diagram which arranges the spectrum of colour consecutively. When we discuss the colour wheel, it is important to understand how it is constructed. The way each colour interacts with those around it, across from it, and more directly impact their reception by the human eye and brain, and therefore the way you may implement them in your marketing and branding efforts.
The colour wheel can be broken down into 3 main categories of colour:
1. Primary Colours
When building a colour wheel, the most basic wheel will have 3 parts: red, yellow, and blue. These colours are known as “primary colours” as they cannot be created through mixing any other colours. From red, yellow, and blue, all other colours are derivatives. This is the absolute base of your colour wheel, the foundation from which all other colour is built.
2. Secondary Colours
The next complexity level of the colour wheel are the secondary colours: green, orange, and purple. These colours are created by mixing two primary colours together: blue + yellow = green, yellow + red = orange, blue + red = purple. Now that our wheel has 6 colours, we have established the naturally occurring six-colour spectrum of light which we discussed in the last article!
3. Tertiary Colours
Finally, we have the tertiary colours: yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green, and yellow-green. These tertiary colours are created by mixing a primary and a secondary colour together, hence the two-part names to distinguish between which of the original 6 colours these lie. Sometimes, as in the infographic provided, other names are given to these tertiary colours to make them more appealing in word as well as hue. We will discuss the value of naming colours in the next part of this series. When these tertiary colours are added to the wheel, it will now contain 12 distinct colours.
Note: Despite being able to break the colour wheel down into categories of colour, the colour wheel is also a spectrum, with one colour fading into the next. This means that there are infinite possibilities of specific hues within this spectrum, each of which still follows the rules of colour theory.
2. Colour Harmony
Have you ever looked at an image, a painting, or a room and felt like your brain was rejecting the colour combination there? Or maybe you’ve looked at an image and practically felt yourself falling asleep from boredom. Visual harmony works to create a sense of order and balance to visual experiences, and when an image is unbalanced or disharmonious, we react. Harmony is defined as a pleasing arrangement of parts, meaning that too much unity and sameness leads to under stimulation, and too high complexity will lead to overstimulation. Studies have shown that the human brain will reject under-stimulating information, that which is not interesting enough to hold our attention, and will also reject overstimulation, that which is too disharmonious and jarring to keep looking at.
So how does this translate into colour theory? How can you ensure your colour scheme is neither under nor overstimulating? Here are 3 ways to ensure harmony in your visual imagery:
1. Analogous Colours
Colours which are analogous, or comparable, are three colours which are side by side on a 12-part wheel. Generally, one of these three colours will be the focal colour, while the others will work to support an accent it. For example, when arranged together, blue-green, green, and yellow-green create a sense of harmony through similarity and cohesion.
2. Complementary Colours
The second method to harmony is to incorporate complementary colours into your image. This means two colours which are directly opposite one another on the colour wheel, such as red and green, purple and yellow, blue and orange, etc. Have you ever noticed when looking at a bouquet of red roses that the red appears more vibrant when compared against the green of the leaves and stems? This is because opposing colours create maximum contrast and maximum stability! Because these two colours are opposite one another on the wheel, greens will look more vibrantly green, and reds will look more vibrantly red! These complementary colours are common in holiday décor, as together they will create a vivid, contrasted display.
3. Nature Based
Nature is the greatest source for colour inspiration. There is nothing so beautiful as the natural world around us, so of course the colour palettes found in nature are pleasing to the eye. When looking for a colour palette to use, nature provides the perfect departure point for colour harmony!
3. Colour Context
Colour Context regards the context in which colours are being used. This means how the colour behaves in relation to other colours and shapes. As discussed in Colour Harmony, complementary colours will make each other more vibrant. Depending on which colours you place together, they can appear more brilliant, dull, lifeless, large, or small! Taking the time to explore the effects colours have on one another is a BIG step towards developing a colour palette for your business that will put your image on the map.
Additionally, research has shown that when new brands use logo or brand colours that are different from their competitors, they are more likely to stand out visually and in memory!2 If your competitors are trending towards yellow branding, take the opportunity to try orange, green, or whatever colour you think best represents your business. It is also important to consider the context of what your image should represent. For example, a green-based colour palette might not be the best if you are in the firewood business!
While it is generalizing to claim that “yellow means happy,” etc. as discussed in the 1st part in this series, think about how different colours make you feel. Ask around, how do they make your employees feel, your friends, your family? Colour context can mean many things, from associated colours, competitors, personality of your brand, and more!
The Concept of Colour
Now that we know the basics of colour theory, there are two questions to ask. Is this necessary for you, and how do you apply this to your business? The answer to the 1st question is simple: yes! Colour theory is crucial in developing a strong, memorable brand image. The answer to the 2nd? Stay tuned for part 3 of this series, where we answer this question and more by exploring the application of colour theory in marketing and branding.
1 “Basic Color Theory.” colormatters.com https://www.colormatters.com/color-and-design/basic-color-theory
2 Ciotti, Gregory. “The Psychology of Color in Marketing and Branding.” NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/id/wbna55181736