Color Theory User Experience (UX) topic overview/definition

Color Theory: Concept Definition

Color theory is a term used to describe the collection of rules and guidelines regarding the use of color in art and design, as developed since their early days. Color theory informs the design of color schemes, aiming at aesthetic appeal and the effective communication of a design message on both the visual level and the psychological level.

Modern color theory is heavily based on Isaac Newton’s color wheel, which displays three categories of colors: primary colors (red, blue, yellow), secondary colors (created by mixing two primary colors), and intermediate or tertiary ones (created by mixing primary and secondary colors). Colors can be combined to form one of five main color schemes that allow designers to achieve harmony in their designs. These are:

  • Analogous: based on three colors located next to each other on the wheel
  • Complementary: one or more pairs of colors that, when combined, cancel each other out (i.e., they produce high contrast)
  • Split-complementary: a combination of the analogous and complementary schemes
  • Triadic: using three colors at equal distances from each other on the wheel
  • Tetradic: using two sets of complementary pairs

Color temperature is another vital consideration in design—by distinguishing between warm, cool, and neutral colors, we apparently have the power to evoke emotional responses in people. Warm colors are those with shades of yellow and red; cool colors have a blue, green, or purple tint; neutral colors include brown, gray, black, and white. While these groupings hold true in a general sense, emotional responses to colors can also be heavily affected by gender, experiences, cultural associations, and other personal factors. Consequently, researching the traits and expectations of a target audience is vital for not only fine-tuning the positive impact of color use in a design but also preventing design failure.

For your convenience, we’ve collected all UX literature that deals with Color Theory. Here’s the full list: