The ABC of Colour.

Peace Solomon
4 min readJun 21, 2022

One of the things I promised to master in my product design journey is the use of colour. Have you ever seen a design, and you are instantly wondering about how the designer was able to mix and blend the colours used and create that design that is visually appealing to you? This is me often when I check out other people’s designs.

Also, there is no doubt that colour helps people perceive your design better. When you use specific colours, it is because you want your viewers to feel a certain way; hence, colour psychology. Because of my slight obsession with understanding how to make better colour combinations, I took the TheFutur’s Color for Creatives course.

This article will explore my lessons from the course and the Mograph’s course on the basics of colour. The first question to examine, of course, is what is colour? Colour is the product of light, that is, what the eyes can perceive and interpret when they are in contact with light. As a result of colour psychology which has existed over the years, certain emotions and sensations can be invoked when a particular colour is used.

A famous example is red which is usually associated with danger or love.

Some terms which are associated with colour will now be briefly explored in this article:

Colour wheel: The term “color wheel” refers to a circle that examines how primary, secondary, and tertiary colors interact with one another and with the corresponding hues, tints, tones, and shades. Primary colours, like the name implies, are the basic colours from which all other colours can be gotten. They are red, yellow and blue (RYB). Secondary colours are colours created by equally combining two primary colors, which include orange, green and purple. Tertiary colours involves mixing primary and secondary colours together to produce colours such as yellow-orange, red-violet, blue-green etc.

Colour wheel.
The Colour wheel.

Colour modes refer to what designers use to portray colors to ensure uniformity across various devices and materials. Major categories are the addictive and subtractive colour modes. The addictive colour modes are light-based and RGB (red, blue and green). They are light-based because as you add or mix more colours, they become lighter unlike the subtractive colour modes. The subtractive colour modes are pigment-based colours and are CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black)).The addictive colour mode is usually used to make visual representations on electronic screens like mobile phones, TVs etc., while the subtractive colour modes are used in prints.

An image portrayed in RGB and CMYK modes.
An image portrayed in RGB and CMYK modes.

Colour scheme: This explores the choice and combination of colours usually based on a colour theory. Most colour schemes include monochromatic, complementary, split complementary, analogous, triadic and tetradic (square). Monochromatic involves the use of a single colour and often exploring that colour’s variations, usually explored in minimalist designs. Complementary involves the use of two colours that are opposite each other on the colour wheel. The formula for split complementary is base colour + two colours adjacent to its complement (opposite) on the colour wheel.

Analogous is using colours next to each other on the colour wheel. Triadic and tetradic are similar as they involve using colours that are evenly spaced out on the colour wheel. For triadic a triangle is formed while a square is formed for tetradic.

The triadic colour scheme
The triadic colour scheme.

Hues, tints, tones and shades: when a colour is in its pure state or pigment, it is referred to as “hue”. Perfect examples are the primary colours. Tints are created when white is added to a hue while shades are created when black is added to such hue. Tones involves adding both black and white or grey to the hue.

Visual representation of hue, tint, tone and shade.
Visual representation of hue, tint, tone and shade.

Chroma, saturation and value: These three are often mistaken and, in reality, are different from one another. Chroma refers to how pure a colour is. When a colour is mixed with black, white or any colour, it becomes less pure. Saturation refers to how a colour appears in various lighting situations such as in bright or low light. Value refers to how dark or light a colour is, that is, how close that colour is to black or white.

Value visually described.
Value visually described.

After understanding these terms, you are ready to start your journey to learn and understand colours better. Also, most course instructors usually advise creating your colour palettes so you should definitely try that to hack proper colour usage and create more aesthetically pleasing designs.

I hope you found this article helpful; let me know if you did ✨