Color Theory for Non-Designers

The effectiveness of lessons on the technical aspects of design software for non-designers is often negated by the fact that few have had access to basic lessons on design principles. Given that this knowledge is the critical difference between a poor piece and an effective one, this lesson aims to give non-designers a “crash course” in how to use color effectively in their everyday design work. All activities will test the learners on their comprehension of color usage as based on the fundamental principles of color theory, furthering the point that these rules should become the basis for all decisions on how to make use of color for successful design communication. This lesson has been designed for use by faculty and staff members in education (K-12 and Higher Education) as a professional development course. The instruction would be lab-based, with students studying examples as a group with the instructor, and then completing the assessment items individually at the end of instruction.

Working professionals with limited design experience will learn to correctly choose color combinations for use in print and media pieces based on the principles of color theory, integrating those cohesive color palettes into their work.

Instructional Module

The entire instructional module included an instructor guide, student guide, detailed design document, a PowerPoint presentation, a color theory handout for students to use as a job aid, and an online assessment activity.

This instructional model was first run as a part of the NOVASTARTALK 2011 Fall Webinar Series. Feel free to watch the entire recording, covering web tools for education. If you would like to fast-forward to the lesson on color theory, you can skip to the timestamp 51:00 to begin that material. In addition, I have also included links to the instructional aids given to participants, along with the original presentation.

Watch Webinar Student Handout on Color Theory (PDF) Color Theory Presentation Slides (PDF)

Assessment Activity

Below, you will find a copy of the assessment activity offered to participants at the culmination of the lecture, an online quiz covering applications of color in various scenarios.

Exercise 1: Identify Color Groups on the Color Wheel

Instructions: Identify and circle several color swatches on each color wheel that are examples of the color groups listed below. The number of color swatches to circle in each example is listed next to the name of the color group.

Exercise 2: Match Colors with Moods

Instructions: Match the colors with the generally accepted moods as stated in our lesson that are associated with each value. Note: Each mood listed will only be used once.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Exercise 3: Correct Examples of Color Palettes that Fail to Support the Mood of a Project

Instructions: Instructions: Given the client’s specifications for each document, state why each color palette is a mismatch, referring to specific color groups utilized by name (i.e. split complementary, analogous, monochromatic). Circle on the color wheel an example of a color palette that would be a correct match based on the client’s needs. Then, briefly describe why you’ve chosen that particular color palette and the color theory principles that your new palette addresses.

Client’s Specifications: We are looking for a color palette for a print brochure that is energizing and exciting. It must utilize the same shade of cobalt blue that is used in our logo, along with other colors that fit with that shade of blue.

Sample of Incorrect Color Palette

To find a color palette that meets the client's needs, first visit the website Colour Lovers to find a palette. You can browse palettes at http://www.colourlovers.com/palettes. Or, you can make your own palette at http://www.colourlovers.com/palettes/add. If you make your own palette, you will need to make a free account with Colour Lovers in order to save it.

Once you have a successful palette, paste the link to it below.

Exercise 4: Choose Colors Based on Real-World Examples

Instructions: Choose color combinations that might serve as palettes for the following sample publications. Make your choices based on what you've learned about color groups, color temperatures and color harmony. The number of colors to choose is listed after each example.

Exercise 5: Create a Color Palette Based on a Project Description

Instructions: Read the client’s project description and create a color combination to meet those specifications. Circle the color wheel to highlight the tones that you would like to include. Explain why you’ve chosen these values based on terminology for mood and feel (ie. warm color palette, cool color palette, high contrast color palette).

Client’s Description: We are looking for a website for our company that conveys a sense of trust, quality and stability without being too boring. The site should include visuals that reassure our client and make them feel at home. It should not include any red tones as red is the main color of our competitor.

To find a color palette that meets the client's needs, first visit the website Colour Lovers to find a palette. You can browse palettes at http://www.colourlovers.com/palettes. Or, you can make your own palette at http://www.colourlovers.com/palettes/add. If you make your own palette, you will need to make a free account with Colour Lovers in order to save it.

Once you have a successful palette, paste the link to it below.