Join Dave Schultze for an in-depth discussion in this video Color and contrast, part of Design Foundation 3D: Shape and Form.
- Contrast is defined as the state of being different from something else, typically the other things that are in close proximity, so that they can be visually compared. We can use more contrast to highlight a feature and help focus the viewer's attention. We can use less contrast, so features disappear into the background. Either way you go, you can create contrast with a variety of elements such as color, texture, material, or even three dimensional forms. It's the change that's the key to contrast.
In graphics, we start with basic black and white. Here's a checkerboard pattern with a little extra twist just for fun. In this next photo of some Lego parts, we have the obvious color contrast, but it's interesting to note that they share the exact same pattern and texture. In fine art, I love the punchy and high contrast art of Roy Lichtenstein. Inspired by comic books, his 1963 painting "Whaam!" Is one of the most recognizable works from the pop art movement. If you didn't catch on, a lot of his work relies on humor and parody.
In my opinion, this is pretty rare and very refreshing in the otherwise serious world of fine art. Check out this 1992 painting called "Bedroom at Arles." Now look at his source of inspiration, Van Gogh's 1888 painting with the exact same name. Nice one, Roy. For a product design example, let's take a look at consumer electronics. This is the Xbox controller in one solid color. It uses a single shade of red throughout, but we do pick up some relief from the control buttons.
It leans a little towards the monochromatic, but otherwise, gets the job done. Now let's look at a second controller, also in a bright shade of red. Here they added black as an accent, plus a cool carbon fiber texture. What a difference. You definitely get a nice pop between the two contrasting colors, and even more interest with the contrasting texture. In architecture, let's head to Paris and check out I.M. Pei's Louvre Pyramid, which opened in 1989. On my first trip here, it was an incredible experience as I first approached the stunning and jewel-like structure.
Unfortunately, the museum was closed due to a strike and no one was allowed in. Don't worry, I got inside on a later trip and I had a great time. Here we have an amazing amount of contrast, but it all works. The form and style of the pyramid clashes with the surrounding French Renaissance gallery wings. The materials couldn't be more different, with the pyramid's transparent and flat sides and the museum's heavy and detailed stone walls. The reason this works is the contrast. The pyramid reflects the surrounding environment, invites you in, and defers to the older buildings around it.
Contrast is a great tool in design. You can go totally different like the Louvre, or use subtle variation to focus attention elsewhere.
First, see how the same idea can be applied in a smaller 2D scale—like graphics and print, fine art, and advertising. Dave then blows it up in 3D, and showcases examples from product design, furniture, architecture, and urban planning.
Projects and concepts are presented in an engaging and sometimes irreverent manner with images, videos, and personal and professional stories from Dave. Check out this fast-paced tour as it covers topics ranging from grids and axes to designing with humor.
- Design exploration with sketching
- 3D exploration with organic forms
- Grids and axes
- Defining space
- Color and contrast
- Texture and patterns
- Minimalism. Less is more.
- Retro. It's back!