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Color: Don’t Underestimate the “Basic” Element of Design

Alex W. White defines 7 elements of design in his book The Elements of Graphic Design. The author emphasizes that mastering these elements can help create eye-catching and noteworthy results regardless of what your ultimate communication objective is. One of these elements, intuitive to many, is color. Color (or absence of color) is part of all communication pieces and has the ability to convey emotion and drive viewer attention. As marketers, we must be wary of our color choices and make sure that they are aligned with our communication goals and brand personality. We must never disregard the damaging effects of a discordant color choice.


According to White, color is both an artistic and intuitive choice. Color choice may be natural to many marketers and may seem like an obvious selection if we stay within the parameters of brand manuals. Surprisingly though, there are still many businesses out there who select discordant or visually unpleasant colors for their communication pieces.  Although it is ok to think outside the box and try new things, as a marketer you should make sure that all your choices ultimately fit in with the brand image that you are trying to build.


White explains that color can be used to aid organization, give emphasis to certain elements and give direction to the communication piece. Let’s look at certain ads who have used color to assist them in delivering their message:


Color Aids Organization:


As referenced previously, many businesses utilize brand manuals to make sure that color choice, logo and typography remains consistent across all client touchpoints. White argues that brands should be somewhat consistent in their color choice and plan use of color from the beginning.


We can observe this consistency with Coca-Cola ads. Red and white have become somewhat symbolic for Coke and consistently appear in many ads without being overwhelming nor disruptive to viewers. Instead, color is used that an identifying characteristic for the brand that provides unity across communication pieces.


Color Gives Emphasis:


Color has the unique ability of highlighting the most important elements of a design piece. Darker elements will stand out on light backgrounds and so will elements that are of different color. Too much color, however, can be overwhelming and the communication message can be lost.


The Yellow Pages ad shown above successfully highlights the name of the brand while highlighting the main elements and message of the piece through color contrast. According to Swiss psychologist Dr. Max Lescher, color can also convey certain associations. In this ad, yellow conveys optimism and happiness while the black is more serious and somber.


Color Provides Direction:


White claims that color can help relate certain parts of communication pieces to each other. Warm colors tend to highlight elements while darker colors push elements backs (highlights vs shadows). Colors can be differentiated thanks to their hue (red, green, blue), vale (darkness vs. lightness) and saturation (brightness). Value and saturation can help increase harmony within your design and help certain elements stand out.


Notice how light colors stand out in the McDonald’s ad above and help highlight the logo and the communication message with a creative portrayal of the moon. Once again, yellow and black are used to generate contrast and unify matching color elements.


Think about your use of color next time you design a communication element. Although your choices may initially be driven by aesthetics, don’t underestimate the power of color when showcasing your message and building your brand.

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