Color Theory and Design Psychology

Color Theory As A Science

color theory chart
Color theory is an entire science unto itself, and to get a full picture of how it all works, I’d suggest picking up a few art books. In this article, however, we’re going to take a brief look at the essentials of color theory, in light of the concepts of Design Psychology.

Here we’ll first list a term, and then offer a short summary of how the term relates to Design Psychology.

Hue

The base name of a color without any white, gray, or black added. The terms hue and color are commonly interchangeable.

Color wheel

A color wheel contains twelve colors, based on primitive pigments. The three primary colors are red, blue, and yellow. Three secondary colors (composed of combinations of the three primary colors) follow: red and blue make purple; red and yellow make orange; yellow and blue make green. Six tertiary colors (comprised of combinations of primary and secondary colors) form the remainder of the color wheel: yellow-orange, red-orange, violet, blue-green, and yellow-green. Black is the total absence of color and white is the reflection of all colors.

Value or Lightness

This denotes the degree of lightness or darkness of a hue, in relation to pure white or black.

Intensity, Saturation, or Chroma:

This term describes the degree of purity of a hue as compared to neutral gray of the same value. This is the freedom from added white or gray; how bright or dull a color appears in relation to the basic hue.

Shades

These are deep tones, in which black is added to a color.

Tints

These are pastels, in which white is added to a color.

Tone

Adding gray of the same value to a hue or adding its complement creates a tone.

Saturation

The intensity or depth of color, such as dark or light.

Monochromatic Color Schemes

This term is used to describe rooms with only tints and shades of the same color. Neutral color schemes are usually monochromatic.

Analogous, Side-by-Side, or Related Color Schemes

These rooms use adjacent colors to the principal color on the color wheel. This is considered a friendly scheme, because the colors blend well and create a soft effect.

Complementary or Opposite Color Schemes

Rooms that use colors from opposite sides of the color wheel. This is considered to be a power and action scheme.

Triad

Consists of three colors, spaced an equal distance apart on the color wheel. Triad color schemes can potentially cause glaring and confusing feelings when all the colors are intense.

Tetrad

Consists of four colors, spaced an equal distance apart on the color wheel. Tetrad color schemes create interesting effects because of the potential variety available. They are best when two colors dominate.

Topographical Color Schemes

These schemes contain colors from nature, such as rocks, earth, sky, sea, and plants.

Floral Color Schemes

These schemes use brilliant or pastel colors found in plants and flowers.

Colorways

Fabrics and wallpapers come in different combinations of colors, or colorways. A fabric pattern will have several selections of colorways to choose from. A pattern may be available in colorways of yellow, blue and green, red, blue and green; or purple, burgundy and blue.

Visual Vibration

This occurs when neighboring colors appear to clash and vibrate in our vision, creating a dizzying effect that adds to nervousness and tiredness.

Cusp Colors

These are colors on the edge of two colors that take on different values under different lighting situations, such as, dark blue/purple (periwinkle), orange/red (terra-cotta reds), and blue/greens (teal). Periwinkle may appear more purple than dark blue at night or under different lighting systems.

Simple Color

This is a true color, without additive colors, such as sky blue, grass green, or apple red. A simple color is a pure color.

Complex Color

This is a combination of colors, such as silvery blue, or lichen (grayish green-brown). A complex color is a color that requires a long description, such as “sort of a grayish-blue with a hint of pink”.

Palette

The entire range of colors used in a design project. These are the basic terms used to describe color schemes within the concepts of Design Psychology. Learning them is the first step toward creating dynamic spaces for both the interior and exterior of your home.

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