I wanted to write something about how I use colour with a limited palette. I’ve used limited colour schemes for screen printing just to keep costs down, but some of the lessons/mistakes I learnt from this have helped influence the way I use colour when it comes to branding as well.
Pure black and white may offer the most contrast (and contrast I suppose is usually the key thing) but it’s a bit abrasive on the eyes. Instead I actually try and dumb down the contrast ever so slightly. I’ve done this with the text you’re reading here: A dark grey (#373737) rather than a standard black (#000000). Subtle, but hopefully it makes reading pages that bit easier. In fact just looking at pages such as BBC and Google I can see I’m not the only one avoiding pure black.
But monotone schemes don’t have to be on a greyscale of course. Below, rather than using a typical grey I may use a hint of colour to try and bring the text in line with other elements:
When two colours come into play (i.e. I can choose my background colour) it allows me to contrast warmth as well as light. Pure white doesn’t express any degree of warmth, so again I try to pull it back slightly and introduce some colour.
Take a look at the two images below:
I’ve desaturated the image on the left so you can see the contrast with the right, and how warmth influences what is inside and what is outside of the shadow. The first thing you probably notice is the blue within the shadow, which is complimented by a presence of yellow outside, but again it’s subtle.
There are however also issues of contrast severity, similar to what I have described with black and white. All of us, not just people who are colour blind, can find colours visually jarring when put together. For example green and red are classic colours confused by colour blindness but placed together they cause a bit of a brain melt for everyone:
How do your eyes feel looking at that? Whether you’re colour blind or not, our use of colour can sometimes be an irritant. This might be what I’m after if I’m designing something punchy, but subtle changes can help reduce this contrast if I think it’s too much.
MORE THAN FOUR COLOURS
Even in a situation where I have carte blanche to use whatever colour I want, I’ll still try to rein it in for two reasons. The first is branding, because I believe in the semiotics of brand identity to register in the public’s mind.
The other reason is I find keeping a strict colour palette helps harmonise the overall work. The principles I have mentioned in the previous section still exist: Do I have the right balance of warm and cool colours? Do I have the right contrast? How will the colours work in their various combinations?
Here’s an example of a series of characters created for Marie’s Baby Circle in South Korea. We loved the illustrations but I felt that there was too much going on with the colours and that they should be narrowed down:
Although hopefully quite subtle, the slight modification below of reducing it down to just 15 colours helps harmonise the overall look and make it feel more consistent: