Design Matters

Working with colors can be a lot of fun. However, choosing an appropriate color scheme for a project can be a daunting task. In this article, I will discuss some basic principles of color theory that can make this process less accidental and more deliberate.

The Color wheel

The basis of most color combinations is the color wheel (see figure below). There are many, many ways to combine the colors on the color wheel, and come up with a usable scheme. Listed below are a handful to get you started:

The basic color wheel

Figure 1: The basic color wheel


Choose a color and one on the direct opposite side of the wheel. For instance, Red and dark green, or purple and light green. One of the most dependable combinations is blue and orange. A wonderful lively scheme, this is one of the best schemes to use when in doubt.

Complementary colors

Figure 2: Some examples of complementary color pairs


Use a color in combination with its tints and shades. When we lighten a color, we obtain its tint. When we darken a color, we obtain its shade. The end result is a scheme that is easy to develop and adds a bit of color.

Monochromatic colors

Figure 3: Monochromatic colors


Using a scheme with grays and blacks only presents a professional impression. The only problem is that without at least a hint of color to balance this scheme, it can sap the energy from the presentation, and the audience. If you do plan to use this scheme, make sure to combine it with a little bit of color, such as red, blue or orange (for instance for the main heading).

Achromatic colors

Figure 4: Achromatic colors

Primary colors

Red Yellow and Blue form the primary colors on the color wheel. A wonderfully cheerful color scheme (if using the right combination), this is often a good scheme to fall back on when time is short, and you need to make an impression.

Primary colors

Figure 5: Primary colors

Some more things to keep in mind:

Warm colors vs cool colors

Warm colors, such as red and orange, tend to come forward. Cool colors, such as green and blue, tend to recede. Warm colors, especially red and yellow, tend to agitate, while cool colors tend to relax. Using too much of any color can either aggravate or depress the audience, while at the same time diluting the effect of the color. Too much red, for instance, could make the audience extremely uncomfortable. Too much blue on the other hand could put the audience to sleep, or sap the energy from the audience. The best way to use these colors is to either use them on a white background, or use a combination of shades and tones of a certain color.

It’s usually a good idea not to use more than two or three colors in a design.

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