Let’s demystify colour theory and understand terminology that helps us manage (and enjoy!) colour even more in our brands.

The (brief) history lesson…

Colour theory is a set of practical information to provide guidance on colour mixing and
the visual effects of specific colour combinations.

Colour theory principles first appeared in the writings of Leone Battista Alberti (c. 1435) and the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci (c. 1490), the tradition of ‘colour theory’ began in the 18th Century with some controversy over Isaac Newton's theory of colour in 1704 called Opticks, and the nature of primary colours.

How does this help you with your brand colours?

As colour theory has evolved (becoming an essential tool for creatives and scientists alike), we use colour theory to inject the science behind the emotion of choosing colours for brands. It helps you prioritise and organise colours into logical sets.

The colour wheel

The colour wheel is the scientific and universal arrangement of colours on the visual spectrum. It is often shown like this with 12 colours and inner circles of white added to show the tonal variations in a colour.

Colour practicality

Colour theory is incredibly helpful when looking at the practicality of colour. For example, colour selection will determine how well you can display more complex information such as creating separation between sub brands and data charts.

Choosing colours that are close together on the colour wheel ensures greater harmony but it restricts the amount of variation you can achieve. Choosing colours on the opposite sides delivers more contrast but careful management will be needed to ensure the final effect is harmonious.

Colour terminology

Colour combinations can be broken down into commonly used categories that each deliver different results:

  • Monochromatic: This is when variations of the same colour, applied in different hues (adding white or black to the colour) is used. They provide a very safe and minimalist colour combination that could be just the ticket for a sophisticated and confident brand.

  • Analogous: Analogous sets use colours that sit next to each other on the colour wheel. They are the most popular with corporate brands as they deliver a calming effect that does not stand out too much whilst delivering enough practical contrast.

  • Complimentary: These sets create the greatest contrast by using colours that are opposite on the colour wheel. They are highly eye catching and can deliver a very confident brand impression.

  • Triadic: These benefit from the unity of an analogous colour scheme but is also energised by the vibrancy of a complimentary colour. These sets are created by selecting three colours that are evenly spaced throughout the colour wheel.

Get confident with colour

So, the next time you are discussing colour, you can realise the theory behind them and why they are part of your brand – and, ultimately, make better colour decisions.

Finally, I just want to add, that colour reviews are the most common re-branding exercises to keep up with businesses as they grow and evolve. It does not have to be a dramatic change but swapping or adding a few colours in whichever way, can reap massive benefits for your brand!