All about Color!

How to best choose colors that complement your design.

Stevie Bales | Environmental Graphic & Exhibit Designer

By Stevie Bales

Choose your colors.

Don’t start with “Ooh I really like purple & blue”. That means nothing. It’s not about what you like, its about what displays your brand. Now that might mean if ‘you’ are your brand, then yes, your thoughts on what you like matter.

Think about how an acquaintance would describe you business. What would they say your business is like. Forget the exact things you do, or how you do them. Even forget what makes you so special. Instead focus on how you make others feel. This is where you go to start picking your colors.

So take for instance, let’s say McDonald’s (I’m just going to go there), and you know back when McDonald’s was made there was at least one person who went to McDonald’s and then left the city. Then they went somewhere else, and was describing McDonald’s, and said “they were really fast and they were really convenient and they were really fun, I think there was this clown, it was awesome!” Those are the feelings you need to channel to find your colors.

So you have your feelings, now what?

Color Psychology

When we think of specific colors they tend to remind us of certain things. This is where you go to choose your colors. Below is a quick graphic of how color plays a role in our emotional thought. You want to choose colors that match the emotional thought process of your target market.

The Emotional Psychology of Color

The Color Pallette.

I would say all good color palettes are between 3 & 5 colors. It’s the most our eyes are able to take in without thinking the person beside/behind all those colors is ‘crazy’ (you don’t want to be the lady in rainbow pants).

A solid color palette gives you options for working with both light and dark backgrounds, so no matter what, you have color options that make your text legible. There are a handful of color theories that help you choose colors that psychologically work together.

Color Patterns


Uses one color of different values.

Color Palette - Monochromatic


Three colors (and values in between) that are next to each other on the color wheel

Color Palette - Analogous


Colors directly opposite each other in the color spectrum

Color Palette - Complementary


Colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel

Color Palette - Triad


Mixing a color with different amounts of black to produce new colors

Color Palette - Shades

Now if you read all of that and are thinking, how is world am I supposed to do this a simpler way? Well you can use the Adobe Color tool to try out a variety of different color schemes.

Appeasing the Color Gods

The colors you choose are directly tied to the emotional message you are trying to convey. It’s important to not just stop at ‘what’ you business does, but instead also focus on ‘how’ that makes people feel. Once you understand the emotional thinking of your target market, you can choose a color palette that works for your business.

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