The way you use colour plays a key role in effectively communicating a message. In this article I’m going to give you an introduction to the colour theory.
Let’s start by defining the three elements that make up colour: hue, value and saturation.
- Hue is the pure colour: when you say red, green or blue, you’re talking about the hue
- Value is the amount of white or black in the perceived colour
- Saturation is a measure of the intensity of a colour
The most useful tool to learn how to combine colours—and consequently understand the three elements mentioned above—is the colour wheel. In the version below of the colour wheel, the hue is four steps from the centre of the wheel. The more we move outwards, the more black is added to the pure colour (resulting in a darker value and creating a shade). The more we move inwards, the more white is added to the pure colour (resulting in a lighter value and creating a tint).
Presentation tools like PowerPoint or Keynote allow you to work with a colour wheel which is derived from the traditional one. You can choose a pure colour (hue) by moving the cursor to the outermost points of the wheel. If you want a lighter version of that colour, you can move the cursor inwards. If you want a darker version, you can move the cursor under the wheel to the right.
At this point, the usual question is this: Interesting, but what can I do with all this? Well, you can do a lot. Working with three simple colour schemes derived from the colour wheel—monochromatic, analogous, complementary—you can create very professional slides. Learning how to use these three simple schemes will put you a step ahead of most people when it comes to designing effective visuals for your presentations.
Monochromatic: a scheme that uses only one colour (hue) in different shades and tints or at different levels of saturation.
Analogous: the colours that sit next to each other on the colour wheel are called analogous. They are similar and therefore tend to blend together. Analogous colour schemes are pleasing to the eye but it’s important to make sure there is enough contrast to avoid confusing them.
Complementary: two colours that sit across from each other on the colour wheel are called complementary (e.g. red and green). Thanks to a high contrast, complementary colours create a strong visual impact and work well when you want to highlight a particular element.
Have you ever wondered why traffic lights use red and green? Although one of the reasons is that we tend to associate red with danger (stop) and green with safety (go), this is not the only reason. Red and green are complementary colours—if you want to communicate opposite meanings it makes sense to choose opposite colours.
If you want to learn more about how to make better presentations, download my report Top 7 Mistakes People Make When Creating Business Presentations.