Color has a tremendous impact on the success of a design. Truly, that success depends on whether the design meets the objectives of the desired outcome.
With that in mind, it’s important to figure out what your project’s goal is before even beginning a color palette. Is this going to be a purely informational subway map? Or an advertisement for a soft drink? Both may be very colorful but in different ways and for different reasons.
Now that you have a goal in mind, what kind of mood do you want to create with this piece? In the case of the subway map, color can be used to clearly indicate different train lines. In the case of the soft drink ad, color can be used to create excitement. If your design were a person speaking, what kind of voice would they use? Loud or quiet? Confident? Commanding? Sexy?
Finally, what action do people need to take when they see this? Does the color call attention to that action?
###How to apply this practically
Consider that cool colors tend to make us calm and introspective, warm colors are often more exciting, and bright colors tend to be loud and boisterous.
If your goal is to inform, a great place to start is with neutrals, adding simple colors to accentuate or highlight special information.
If you’re trying to excite people, you can’t go wrong with warm colors like red, orange, and yellow as your base, complementing that with blues and greens.
Conversely, if your goal is to reassure, start with blues and greens. Why do you think medical scrubs tend to be those colors?
Then if you want to warn someone of danger or flat-out grab their attention, use Caution Yellow or Stop Sign Red.
Triadic and complementary color schemes are very common and practical when it comes to design. If you go beyond five colors (two main colors plus variants or split complements), the color scheme gets messy and disorganized.
One of my favorite tricks is to start with a basic color palette and shift it to the warm or cool side to mix it up a little. It’s familiar, but there’s enough of a twist to make it different.
Of course, different colors have different meanings associated with them in different colors. In Western society, light green is often associated with growth and new life because of young plants, and red is seen as energetic or hot. Neutral colors signal that something is expensive, and bright colors signal that something is lively and festive. Pastel colors tend to be reassuring.