Color is an important element in design because it is one of the first visual elements any viewer will notice and internalize. The choice of color combinations influences the perceived size, weight, depth, and connotation of a composition, and can be used to direct the movement of the piece. Color can also create illusions and emphasize certain elements of a composition.

Because of this, it is very important for a designer to be conscientious of color choice and placement. This is especially true when choosing a color for type. Certain color combinations will decrease the contrast between type and image and this will eliminate the illusion of a foreground and background. Also, certain colors that are equal in value and intensity, but opposite in hue, will create a vibrating sensation to the eye. This can make copy difficult to read.

Color can also be used to create visual hierarchy and enhance visual elements of a composition. Layered colors can create an interesting texture and complementary colors can be used to direct attention toward certain blocks of text placed throughout a composition to create a “packet” of information.

This idea of creating “packets” of information has been carried over into informational design. Designers are now using color, like icons, to delineate information in a systematic way. If you notice, you can see that large buildings are now using color to direct you to certain areas, or color will be used to denote different quantities of data.

Color has become a powerful tool in design and its use has greatly increased with technological innovations. However, colors do not have universal associations. Therefore, it is important for designers to be aware of the cultural background of their intended audience. Also, a designer must be conscientious of the mode in which their work will be viewed—screen or print-based media. This will determine whether a designer works in RBG color mode, or CMYK.


This article discusses how color plays a role in sensation and perception. The author of this article talks of how chromotherapy has been used for centuries and is still used today as a holistic or alternative treatment. (Chromotherapy is often referred to as light therapy or colourology).

According to this article:

  • Red was used to stimulate the body and mind and to increase circulation.
  • Yellow was thought to stimulate the nerves and purify the body.
  • Orange was used to heal the lungs and to increase energy levels.
  • Blue was believed to soothe illnesses and treat pain.
  • Indigo shades were thought to alleviate skin problems.

Modern research suggests that the mood-altering effects are only temporary, but studies have shown that color does impact the outcome of certain events and provoke distinct emotional responses. Below are some of the studies that have been conducted regarding color use:

  • One study found that warm-colored placebo pills were reported as more effective than cool-colored placebo pills.
  • Anecdotal evidence has suggested that installing blue-colored streetlights can lead to a reduction of crime in those areas.
  • The temperature of the environment might play a role in color preference. People who are warm tend to list cool colors as their favorites, while people who are cold prefer warmer colors.
  • Studies have also shown that certain colors can have an impact on performance. Exposing students to the color red prior to an exam has been shown to have a negative impact on test performance.
  • More recently, researchers discovered that the color red causes people to react with greater speed and force, something that might prove useful during athletic activities.
  • One study that looked at historical data found that sports teams dressed in mostly black uniforms are more likely to receive penalties and that students were more likely to associate negative qualities with a player wearing a black uniform.

As a designer we don’t often consider the psychological implications of color choice in our compositions. We chose colors that are “trendy” or “modern”, instead of using them to enhance and address the message we are trying to convey in our work.



This infographic is an example of using color as an informational tool. Each line on the map corresponds to information labeled on the right side of the page.


These colors are vibrating. This is because the pink and purple have similar value and intensity. Neither color is able to advance or recede and thus they create the optical illusion of vibration.


Here the artist used color to create depth and create pockets of information. The limited use of color creates a system and ties information together. Also, the cool dark blue background creates depth and recedes, while the lighter colors advance and create a foreground.


Color dictates the message of this design. Had the substance flowing into the body/chalice been blue, the audience would have interpreted the piece entirely different–perhaps associating the flowing liquid with water instead of blood or wine.


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