design delight 7: colour schemes

Spin the wheel.

You know that feeling when you see a logo or some visual design and it just stands out right away? You don’t know what it is but it just looks so refreshing. There’s a good chance the science of the colour wheel was applied.

In today’s insight we look at how to use the colour wheel when choosing a colour scheme for our brand, logo, iconography or web page:

Let’s get straight to it:

1. The colour wheel in all its glory:

The colour wheel is based on three primary colours: Red, Yellow and Green. In between are the secondary colours and tertiary colours you see in the diagram. So how can we use this wheel to pick out powerful and harmonious colour schemes?

First, we can divide the wheel in half, by the temperature of the colours. This is quite intuitive. All the reds, oranges and yellows fall on the warm spectrum and the greens, blues and purples on the cool spectrum.

Now, we can also use primary, secondary and tertiary colours together in various combinations. When we do this. we are using a triadic colour scheme.

There are also complementary, analogous, split complementary and tetradic colour schemes we can use. Look at the diagrams below: we used the same and/or similar sets of colours in each matching method so you can truly grasp the nuances.

Complementary colour schemes use two colours that are directly opposite each other on the wheel.

Analogous schemes use three colours that are directly beside each other.

Split complementary schemes also use three colours. You take a first colour, then you take the two colours on either side of its complementary colour.

Tetradic schemes use four colours. Take two colours that are one colour apart from each other. That’s your first pair. Next, take another pair that is also spaced one colour apart, and this pair has to be directly opposite of (across from) the first pair on the wheel.

Once you have selected your colours, you can increase the amount of colours in your scheme by adding various tints or shades to the colour you’ve already chosen. This allows you to add some variety, while still keeping harmony by staying within the boundaries of the colour wheel.

What are tints and shades? A colour becomes more tinted as you lighten it by adding white. On the other hand, we create a shade of a colour as we add the colour black to darken it.

Using the colour wheel in this way can serve as a great guide to pick out colour schemes for your logo, visual identity and customer experiences such as web pages, interior designs and print collateral. This is especially true when you are starting out or don’t have professional help. Hoewer, as you become increasingly familiar with the colour wheel and matching colour schemes, you are able to stretch the boundaries and look to other places of inspiration for your colour schemes.

That’s what we’ll look at in the next post of this series.