Colors. Oh, the Colors.
Color is such a broad and difficult story – because everyone sees and “feels” color differently. There are some constants, but the only real constant with color is that it’s totally inconsistent, because people are pretty inconsistent.
The way people interact with or react to color is reasonably predictable – it’s why pink walls in jail cells work as opposed to red – but the way that people mechanically see color can be a real crap shoot to design around. That’s what we’re talking about here – color in design, web sites, printed goods, on monitors and on paper – and it really is one of the biggest issues designers can face*. There are a few reasons:
First – everyone’s eyes are different. Blue eyes are more sensitive to bright lights, and stuff can seem washed out. It’ll also give you a wonderful headache that caffeine can’t cure.
Second – a “significant portion” of the public is color blind to one extent or another. Since there is so much subtlety and finesse involved with color, a small variance in the way one set of eyeballs mechanically sees color can make a huge difference in how the finished piece can look.
Third – how many damned devices do we have to design for? And each one of those devices can be different within it’s own model – one Apple monitor doesn’t look like another – then you have to multiply that error rate by the number of different devices, sizes, ages, conditions, and other factors, and you wind up with a billion different problems. Then – is it going on paper? What kind of paper – and where was it manufactured? Tshirts? Billboards? Stickers? HOLY CRAP! If it’s getting printed, how? What kind of ink. How much pressure while it’s being printed? Offset or digital? On and on it goes.
Fourth – environmental issues affect how you see color. Natural light at 4 o’clock in the afternoon is not the same as natural light at 1:30 in the afternoon. There are a million different types of lights, light bulbs, light fixtures and wattages and dimmers and manufacturers. Add to this the shape of the room. Then, the color of the walls make a difference. That coffee mug on your desk? It’s throwing some reflective light onto your screen.
Fifth – color interacts with other color. If you put red and grey next to each other, the effect of those colors on each other is totally different than if it was red and bright baby blue. Get the wrong colors together, and it looks like they vibrate. It’s weird – but cool.
Let’s break it down to a mathematical equation, and we’ll start with the different colors of eyes as our base number. Let’s say there are only 3 – blue, brown and green. Then, we’ll just say that there are only 5 variants of color blindness. 15. Let’s say there are only 1000 different devices with 5 variants per device. 75000. Fourth – let’s just say that there are only 200 different environmental factors. Now we’re up to a cool 15 million. Fifth, let’s say that there are only 50 color combinations that will ever interact with each other and we wind up with 750,000,000 different ways to “see” a single color, and I’m vastly underestimating the numbers. You get the point.
All of this is to say that color is a moving target. There are ways to mitigate the mechanical differences in color – Pantone books, color calibrators, etc – but you can’t make everyone sees your color the same way you see it. Just can’t. Thankfully – like I mentioned – people’s reaction to color is pretty predictable, so understanding that predictable reaction is paramount in choosing color for designwork.
There are “selling colors” and “love colors” and “action colors” and “calming colors.” There are subtle nuances inside those categories – and you can mix and match and complement and contrast – but you have to use color properly for it to be effective. Just because you think your logo looks great in yellow, that doesn’t mean that it’s the best choice to present to your customer/demographic. Personal taste and choice is kind of out the window here.
So – what do you do? Throw up your hands and say “whatever?” Run screaming? Say “screw it” and just go with bad color? No – you lean on experience – and a couple of tools. Pantone books are great – they are the de facto king of color in the design realm. Color calibrators. Color proofs and other stuff. We’ve got you covered. You don’t have to worry about making sure your color looks right across the board. That’s our job.
We can help you pick the right color for your project, and we can help make sure it looks great everywhere.
See, we’ve “done color” enough to know what looks good and how to translate that to the finished piece. You want your business cards, your web site and your tshirts to all look great AND look like they belong together. You want consistency in your color, and we know how how to deliver.
We understand color. We can help YOU understand color. Let’s go.