Join Jim Krause for an in-depth discussion in this video Establishing pecking order, part of Color for Design and Art.
- Our eyeballs are some really busy little organs, and one thing in particular that keeps them on their toes, so to speak, is the job of constantly letting us know what's worth paying attention to, and what could be considering peripheral. That's no easy job, especially considering the vast amounts of visual clutter that we face almost every waking minute these days. So, that said, we, as designers, we can do the eyeballs of others a real favor by creating layouts and illustrations that provide really clear and sensible cues as to where to look first, and where to go next, where to go after that.
So how's this done? Compositionally speaking, things like size relationships, visual framing, and directional elements, these can be employed to attract and direct the eye, and color can help too. In fact, let's talk about how color can be used to tell the eye where to go when it encounters a layout. Now I'll use this somewhat challenging layout as my subject here. It's challenging because everything in it seems to be calling for a similar amount of attention.
Nothing really stands out here, either through boldness or through size. So if there's going to be a strong sense of visual hierarchy in this piece, it's going to have to come from color. You know, color to the rescue. Now, before we start working on our layout, let's sidestep briefly and look at some useful principles about color and visual hierarchy. When I say color, what I'm really talking about here are the three components of color: hue, saturation, and value.
In terms of hue, warm colors. These attract more attention than cool colors most of the time. But more importantly, it's usually a color's saturation that determines how much eye-attracting power it actually has. Saturated colors, whether it warm or cool, these are good at attracting notice, especially when these bright colors are surrounded by muted hues. What about value? Strong differences in value tend to attract notice. Lesser value differences attract less notice, and areas with especially subdued value differences hand back even further.
Okay, that's not everything there is to know about using color to attract and direct attention, but you know what? It's enough to give us what we need to bring an effective look, a visual hierarchy to our eyeball-challenging layout. For starters, let's apply a warm, bright red orange to its headline. It's a color that should let viewers' eyeballs know where to go first. Let's make sure they get the message by darkening the backdrop with a deep complementary blue.
That way the red-orange really stands out. That looks good. Next, let's make sure the layout's illustration gets its fair of notice by coloring it brightly too. Try out some options here. Maybe some cooler colors in there. Now the yellow looks good, but I'm going to mute things down a few degrees to keep this color from fighting for attention with the headline. That's better. Now a color for the rest of the headline. I could go with our same red-orange, or even a lighter shade, but how about creating some color diversity by using a saturated cool blue-green? So it's a strong color, but it's one that does not compete with the central type for attention, and I like that.
Just to keep things from looking too complicated, I'm going to use the same warm gray for the ad's outer border along with the subhead and the logo. It's an interesting color, and it's one that definitely plays a purely supporting role within the layout. All that's left is the text. Now the white looks good, and with white, the type is nice and legible. I like that, but the white just seems to draws too much attention to itself. That's how it looks to me, so I'm going to go ahead and change the white to a light gray instead.
It's still legible, but now it's got a touch of restraint. Now I'm good with all this, but what if I decided that I wanted the illustration to get more notice than the headline? Well, I'd just mute the colors in the headline, a little bit anyway, and amp them in the illustration. No problem. Here's a side-by-side comparison. Either solution could work. There's nice colors and a clear sense of visual packing order in both solutions. So keep in mind the things we just talked about the next time that you add color to a layout or an illustration, and let your colors help as you try to make the world an easier to navigate place for the hard-working eyeballs of your fellow human beings.
Primarily aimed at designers and illustrators, the course leans heavily toward digital tools such as Photoshop and Illustrator, but concludes with some challenges using real-world media (inks and paints!), so members can get a solid understanding of mixing colors and what tools and combinations work best.
- Navigating the color wheel and color vocabulary
- Why a color's value is so important
- RGB vs. CMYK vs. spot
- Finding the perfect color
- Working with grays and browns
- Building a color palette
- Borrowing hues for palettes
- Establishing color hierarchies
- Fixing color problems
- Altering color in photos and illustrations
- Using texture with color
- Painting for learning and fun