Tips to Making Better Color Choices in Design

Most of us as designers are fully aware that within design there are several key elements and  principles which in most cases should be adhered to in order to yield an effective design. From the implementation of negative space all the way to constructing a visual hierarchy, each of these components plays an important part.

Color is no exception as its role is crucial. Within the design world color is vital as it can turn something that is mediocre into phenomenal and awe-inspiring artwork. Unfortunately, it can also break your design and leave it not only lacking but unappealing.

Because color plays such a large role in your design work it is a good idea to not only understand basic color theory but also comprehend how one can better their designs with the color choices that they make. To aid you in your current and future design projects, here are a few tips to take into consideration when choosing the right colors for your projects in order to improve your designs in the long run.

Understand Your Project

understand your project

Before you dive headfirst into your project you need to first step back and evaluate the situation. Design is like anything else you’ve ever immersed yourself in. It needs to be thought out clearly and concisely so that you can avoid or at least minimize potential problems that could jeopardize your entire project. Whether you’re working for a client or for yourself you should always be thinking about what is the message you are trying to convey. In other words, know your message. You also need to understand the meanings each color may have. Understand it and use it to your advantage to do something creative.

It may not be apparent from the start but color can truly help get your message across. In fact if utilized right it can speak volumes to the reader just by pairing it up with the right graphics. Consider this scenario: you are to design a promotional flyer for a fundraising benefit that will raise money for those with thyroid cancer. The client insists you use black with the respective thyroid cancer ribbon colors of teal, pink and blue. What do you do? Most might lean to the “client is always right” but if you rethink the situation and the message you would wisely advise the client that perhaps black is not the best choice. Yes, black is a great color to use when you want certain elements to stand out but in regards to using it in a design meant to promote goodwill and hope it is a step in the wrong direction. Using a pastel color or just white would be a better suited choice.

Naturally if you are unsure about what direction you should go in you can always ask for the opinion of others. Most people are willing to give you feedback whether or not they are designers. Also when understanding your project you will want to understand and remember that certain words lend themselves to certain colors. Words that give off positive connotations should be accompanied with bright or pastel type colors. Inversely words that give off or cause strong feelings should be paired with dark or bold colors.

Use Color Apps

color app

If you are new to color or find yourself unsure of what color choices that you should make you can simplify your life by turning to external tools. There have been many apps, both online and mobile that are dedicated to creating personal color palettes, finding the correct html codes for your desired shade and even some that will generate color palettes based off the pictures you have taken. These tools can be exceptionally handy especially if you are under a deadline.

Just like with finding a color to coincide with your message, you can look for feedback through these apps by accessing such online web apps like Kuler. This app is essentially an online color community where designers both aspiring and seasoned can upload and share their personally created color palettes.

Color apps; be it on your mobile device or computer can truly help inspire you. Often times than not you will stumble upon a color combination that you either never thought about or never thought would work. Because each color app has its own set of limitations and possibilities it is best that you test some of them out to see if you can personally benefit from their use.

Legibility and Hierarchy


When you are picking your colors you want to keep the elements that you are working with in mind. Balance and harmony are important no matter what project you are working on and with that being said it should also be noted that color factors into this. The colors you choose to pair up together can either help or hinder the overall legibility of your design. Legibility in terms of design just doesn’t determine if the viewer can read the words present but it also determines what the viewer can distinguish amongst the visual elements.

To aid in this matter it is best to use contrast colors. Contrast colors can be effectively used by using one color as the background and the other for the foreground elements. For example, white elements on color backgrounds can easily be deciphered while a hot pink background with a lighter a shade of pink being used for the foreground graphics and typography will be less legible. This isn’t to say that bright colors are bad because they truly aren’t when used correctly.

Bright and bold colors can really have an impact on your design. With proper use of negative space you can use these types of colors as well as complimentary colors to create visual hierarchy. Doing this is a great idea because not only are you using color to capture the attention of your viewer but you are also using color to lead their eye. Essentially you need to pick a color that attracts attention while bringing your information to the forefront of the design.

Constantly Experiment


The last tip is fairly simply and therefore short. When it comes to color you need to experiment with different variations of color palettes. Not only do you want to try to different color combinations but you also want to try pairing them up in different hierarchies and with different types of effects. This is a good practice to get into because it helps you grow as a designer. You don’t want to be a graphic designer who relies on the same handful of tricks because in the long run your work will translate this and could possibly leave potential clients unimpressed with your portfolio.

Another thing to take in consideration is the color combinations that don’t work. You should save these palettes regardless of their lack of success because it is quite possible that they might work with a different project altogether. You never know until you try and that’s why you must continue practicing and experimenting.


During your quest to find the perfect color choice you should always keep in mind that the colors you choose should fit both the mood and aesthetic of your design. Don’t be afraid to try different things. Designing is all about experimenting so mix and match as much as you want and don’t worry too much on any design rules or current trends. If you’re still stumped then go browsing for inspiration, you never know what you might find.