Which one of those pictures caught your eye? It was the one on the left, wasn’t it?! Now, why do you think that happened? Because the photograph has colors in it! We humans are used to seeing the world in color, and it affects us the same way sounds and smells do. Something without color is “visually bland”; flavorless, like plain boiled pasta without any sauce on it. It is un-interesting. What’s even worse? Having the wrong colors. People do not make pink colored Ferraris or have maroon colored swimming pool flooring for a reason. The colors are just not suited for those uses. Sure, salt is an ingredient too, but you wouldn’t put that in your coffee, would you? Color, when used in the right quantity and in the right manner, has a great impact on our audience.
Well, I’m a designer, so I need to know my colors. But why would any one else, non-designers, care about color? What would you, be it an engineer, a project manager, an IT personnel or a professor, benefit by learning about color? That is exactly what I’d like to talk about in this article. Color is a very powerful tool and has a greater impact than we realize. It has the capability to influence people’s moods and feelings. Instead of just talking to you about how we can use color effectively, I’d like to show it to you with some examples I used when learning. The main platform I will be concentrating on is digital presentation; yes, slide shows! Why? Because designer or not, everyone uses this tool a lot for important activities and, it is quicker and easier to understand and apply what we learn about color to presentations. Also because, the world has seen enough “awesome” presentations like these:
It’s time we saw more colorful and interesting ones!
Before we get into the driver’s seat and speed off, we have to know what the controls are, right? We will look at a few important elements first and then see how they are effectively used.
- First off is the color choice. If we get this wrong, nothing can save the presentation. Choice of color depends on factors like the audience, content, the venue etc. For example, a presentation for little kids could avoid colors like black and white and use fun colors like a bright blue, orange, shades of yellow, red etc. These colors pop out of the page more, add interest to the content and keep the kids awake through the presentation. Of course, these colors are only suggestions. It is also good practice to have white spaces in the slides, as they serve as breathing spaces for the eye and provide a channel for the eye to travel through the page.
- Next is contrast. The eye is naturally drawn to areas with the highest contrast. So, it is suggested to keep areas or words which are important at a higher contrast than the other matter. For example, on a dark grey background, white text will have a higher contrast than say, red, or even yellow text. Naturally in this case, whatever is white in color will be considered important by our brain and the eye will tend to look at it first.
- The third and final element is the visual weight of the colors. Warmer colors like red and orange usually have more visual weight than cooler ones like blue. Example, in a sentence with yellow and red text, our eyes are attracted to red more than to the yellow text, placing more emphasis on the “red” words.
Using all or a combination of the above elements will definitely generate interesting presentations. Though color helps gain the audience’s attention, it is up to the actual content to retain it. A few examples to demonstrate what we just learnt:
The above is a snapshot from an apple presentation. The clever use of color and contrast clearly conveys the meaning. Though green has lower visual weight than red, the placement of the green circle against a darker area of the background has a higher contrast than that between the red circle and the lighter area of the background. This naturally attracts the eye to the hero of the slide: the green circle for the iPhone. The blue also has low contrast being cooler and placed against a lighter part of the background. Also note that the elements convey the intended meaning without the need for boring sentences.
This is a snapshot from the Google I/O 2014 event. Though this slide is not intended to convey any message, it is visually appealing. The reason is simple: multi-colored elements with different visual weights create different values of contrast. This, in combination with abundant white space allows the eye to effortlessly travel across the page with minimal strain. If not for these white spaces, the page would look highly cluttered and strain the eye, resulting in a bad experience.
Another snap from Google I/O 2014. Here, the slide uses different shades of the same color, and counts on the contrast created between the shades and the background to emphasize their hierarchy. Ultimately, our eyes are first led to the smallest rectangle with the highest contrast and lastly to the larger ones with progressively lower contrasts. Also, note that the largest outer rectangle also has a contrast comparable to the smallest rectangle. This keeps the eye looking inside the largest rectangle, thus making it a border, without it explicitly being one. This is an example of the awesome effects correct usage of colors can help achieve.
The last one is a slide from one of my concept presentations. I knew that the venue was an open, bright, sunlit room. So, I chose a white background. Light backgrounds help with bright surroundings. For the text, I used a dark grey color and not black so that the high contrast between black and white will not downplay the emphasis I wanted on the red text. The use of a larger font size and a completely different color creates enough contrast for the reader to understand that “you” is the emphasized word. This slide was included to highlight the versatility of the concept I was presenting.
Right usage of color goes a long way in making things look interesting and appealing. It is only with practice that we can understand how much color is too much for a situation. It doesn’t have to be as colorful as Google’s I/O slides or as simple as my presentation slide. An interesting presentation will keep the audience engaged and help them retain it longer in memory. This is valuable because no one likes it when people forget what you presented despite putting a lot of effort into it.
This post only scratches the surface on using colors. There is a lot more that I’ve learnt over time and I’ll be sharing it with you in forthcoming articles. I know that you would also love to give awesome presentations! Who doesn’t?! Even if you’re not a designer, I am sure there will be something useful to take away from my blog. So, subscribe to my blog and stay tuned for future posts.
Also, this is a subjective article based on what I’ve learn’t and observed. If you think I might be wrong about something, do start a conversation in the comments section below. It is never too late to learn!