An introduction to color theory
If you’re a user interface (UI) designer—or thinking about becoming one—you’ll know that color plays a crucial role in the design of digital products. Think about the different apps and websites you use on a daily basis, and how the colors they use shape your experience. Color helps to build and reinforce a particular brand identity, and on a practical level, it ensures that apps and websites are both accessible and enjoyable. When it comes to digital design, color choices aren’t just made on a whim; they’re steeped in what’s known as color theory.
Color theory: Primary, secondary, and tertiary colors
Color theory is a framework based largely on Isaac Newton’s color wheel, which dates back to 1666! The wheel distinguishes between primary colors, secondary colors, and tertiary colors. The primary colors are red, blue, and yellow. These colors cannot be created by mixing other colors. Secondary colors, on the other hand, can be created by mixing two primary colors. Orange, purple, and green are all secondary colors. Tertiary colors include magenta, vermillion, violet, teal, amber, and chartreuse. These are created by mixing a primary color with a secondary color.
Of course, there are more than twelve colors in the world, and today’s designers use a much more advanced version of Newton’s color wheel. The modern color wheel charts not only the primary, secondary, and tertiary colors, but also their hues, tints, tones, and shades.
Color theory: The importance of color harmony
Another key aspect of color theory is color harmony. This is all about different color combinations and how they work together (or not!) When creating an interface, designers will always strive to achieve color harmony, ensuring a visually pleasing end result for the user. What happens if colors don’t work in harmony together? The final result may be dull and under-stimulating or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, chaotic, messy, and over-stimulating.
Color theory also considers color psychology. Designers will therefore think about how certain colors might influence the user’s mood or behavior, and what different colors mean to different audiences. As you can see, there’s a lot more to choosing colors than meets the eye! We’ve only touched upon color theory here; you can learn more in this complete introduction to color theory and color palettes.