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The importance of Colour in Graphic Design an d Website Design

Graphic Design Using Colour

 by: Kelly Paal

Colour is everywhere and conveys a message even if we don’t realize it. While this message can vary by culture it pays to know what colours “say” in your own corner of the universe, and even what colour means to your target market.

If you don’t think that colour speaks just complete this sentence, “red means ---- and green means –“ even a child will know what red means stop and green means go.

If such simple ideas work for all of a given culture or market what could it mean to the graphic design of your website, brochure, or product if you know some of this information. First let’s start with the basics. The colour wheel. We’ve all seen it. The colour wheel shows the basic colours, each wheel is different in how many shades of each colour is shown, but they are essentially the same.

Colour harmony, colours that go together well. These will be colours that are next door to each other on the colour wheel. Such as blue and green. In reference to clothes these colours match each other. Instinctively most of us know which colours go together when we dress ourselves every morning.

Colour complements, colours that set each other off, they complement each other. These are colours that are opposite on the colour wheel. Such as blue and orange.

Colour depth, colours can recede or jump forward. Remember that some colours seem to fall back such as blue, black, dark green, and brown. Other colours will seem to step forward such as white, yellow, red, and orange. This is why if you have a bright orange background it may seem to fight with any text or images that you place on it. The orange will always seem to move forward.

Now you have the basics so let’s go further. Just because to colours go together or complement each other doesn’t mean that you necessarily want to use them on your project. I opened this article with the meaning of colours now here is an example, keep in mind this is one example from western culture.

Colour Survey: what respondents said colours mean to them.

Happy = Yellow
Pure = White
Good Luck = green
Good tasting = Red (tomato)
Dignity = Purple
Technology = Silver
Sexiness = Red (tomato)
Mourning = Black
Expensive = Gold
Inexpensive = Brown
Powerful = Red (tomato)
Dependable = Blue
High Quality = Black
Nausea = Green
Deity = White
Bad Luck = Black
Favourite colour = Blue
Least favourite colour = Orange

So in designing your project it’s important to know what colours mean. You can now see why a black back ground with green type would be bad, beyond being nearly impossible to read, if your target market thinks that black represents mourning and green makes them sick. There are exceptions to every rule of course.

So you may want to include some research in what colours mean to your target market. Colours that would get the attention of a teen would probably annoy an older person and the colours that appeal to the older person wouldn’t get a second look from a young person.

Colour may be one of the most overlooked aspects of design.


About The Author

Copyright 2004 Kelly Paal

Kelly Paal is a Freelance Nature and Landscape Photographer, exhibiting nationally and internationally. Recently she started her own business Kelly Paal Photography ( She has an educational background in photography, business, and commercial art. She enjoys applying graphic design and photography principles to her web design.

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