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Let's be honest: None of us, not even those of us who are designers, were born with an innate sense of color.
In fact, when we were children, we most likely experimented with colors and didn't even apply them in a way that reflected what we saw in real life. In our imaginary world, a green sun, a pink giraffe or a yellow tree made perfect sense.
But step by step, over the years, we learned to reflect exactly what we saw in the real world and began to draw a yellow sun, a tan giraffe with brown splotches and a green tree.
When we venture into the world of do-it-yourself infographic design, this same learning process takes place. At first, so many colors and options may lead us to spend hours at a time trying to find just the right combination--or simply lead us to consider hiring someone else to do it for us.
But over time, and with some knowledge of how color theory applies to infographics, it’s easy to decide which colors work best and which to discard.
As an experienced content marketer and graphic designer, I want to give you a few tips on how to choose the right color schemes for your infographics, and you’ll discover that it’s not so difficult to apply color theory principles to infographic design.
So let's get started!
The first challenge experienced by those who are new to infographic design is that it consumes a lot of time--time most of us don’t have. So many prefer to do something less time-consuming, like write blog posts or share pictures and graphics created by others.
But the importance of creating your own images and graphics, especially infographics, cannot be overstated in today's "visual Internet."
Infographics are an excellent way to boost the online visibility of your company's vision, identity and proprietary information.
So the question is: How can you spend the least amount of time possible designing an infographic and still obtain excellent results? The key is to carefully plan each step:
This may seem obvious, but the process of designing an infographic for, let's say, a toy company is not the same as for a real estate one.
That’s why it’s best to think about who exactly is going to consume your infographic before you start designing.
Mothers, executives or millennials? Depending on who your target audience is, your color selections will vary and, possibly, the way readers will process your infographic.
It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Just a quick drawing of how you are going to visually represent your content, how many sections or blocks the infographic will have and what elements (such as images or illustrations) will stand out above others.
If you aren’t an illustrator or photographer, you can use images and illustrations created by others, which are available through image and icon libraries or free online infographic tools such as Visme.
It may not seem that important at first, but the simple decision of which illustration or image to choose conditions the whole tone and the chromatic scheme of your infographic.
From here on out, I recommend that you don't go outside the chosen chromatic range, or expand or modify it while incorporating graphics and texts to your project, or the final result will have nothing to do with the first sketch you did.
Let's focus on point 3 of the process I just described. For this, there is no other option than to return to grade school for just a few minutes and remember the basic rules of color.
The theory of color is halfway between art and science. The first formulations of these theories are found in the book "Opticks" by Isaac Newton.
Nowadays, there are several theories that we categorize as either traditional or modern, the latter influenced by the most recent scientific discoveries.
The first thing you should know is that the so-called primary colors are limited by our physiological response to light. That is, our eyes have certain receptors (called cones) that make us see three primary colors: red, green and blue.
Other species have more cones, so they can see 4 primary colors. In contrast, those who have fewer cones, can only see two primary colors.
That is why we speak of "psychological" colors, because the colors that we appreciate are not present in the real world, but our brain interprets them thanks to the receptors we have.
Primary colors are those that our eyes perceive (RGB), and secondary ones are those that result from a mixture of these:
Green + Blue = Cyan
Red + Blue = Magenta
Red + Green = Yellow
Red + Blue + Green = White
These secondary colors are obtained by adding (additive synthesis) the primaries and the sum of the three will result in the color white.
And how do you get black? Good question! The color black is obtained from the secondary colors through another process called subtractive synthesis:
Magenta + Yellow = Red
Cyan + Yellow = Green
Cyan + Magenta = Blue
Cyan + Magenta + Yellow = Black
Finally, note that tertiary colors are obtained from the mixture of equal parts of a primary color and a secondary color.
This mixture allows for the extension of a chromatic range so that we can see nuances between colors, such as orange-yellow or orange-red. They are similar, but not the same.
Before concluding this brief summary, I want to warn you that these models (better known as RGB and CMYK) are only theoretical models, not physical ones.
The colors we perceive are a result of how our brains respond to the stimulation of light in color receptors located in the iris, not a property of light.
That’s why we speak of impossible models, because colors vary according to the person and, of course, the species.
In fact, some women also have yellow cones in addition to RGB cones, so they perceive colors that other people will never perceive.
Now let's get back to adulthood: It’s time to apply all this theory to infographic design and the process of choosing the right color schemes.
I like to define infographics as "scenes in which a story unfolds," as if they were the stage of a play.
This stage is one of the key parts of an infographic, and the story told must be authentic or your visual will not achieve its intended effect. The stage sets the scene for the story and its elements should be easily identifiable for the target audience.
These scenes should contain:
Easily identifiable elements, related to the story that is told, as in this infographic about how to become an infographic design "ninja." By setting the scene with elements related to ninjas, we've created a visual theme which helps viewers assimilate the story.
A consistent color scheme. If your infographic has a Christmassy look and feel, it doesn't make sense to use a chromatic range containing colors like pink or sky blue. Traditionally, we associate Christmas with red and green.
Simple color combinations. If you stick with me till the end of this post, you will see a few color combinations that work. But keep in mind: It’s always better if you stick to two or three colors that combine well with each other.
To breathe life into these scenes, you must choose a color scheme that fulfills both of these functions: allows for easy reading and is visually attractive.
In order to create these schemes, you must take into account something I mentioned at the beginning of this article: the target audience. You should not use pink in a business infographic, nor the color black in an infographic about child care.
These guidelines should help you choose a color scheme:
Professional infographics about services. In the business world, blue and gray are two of the most used colors. It's an unwritten rule that you don’t have to stick to, but I don’t recommend childish colors or pastel colors that are too soft.
Infographics about high-end or exclusive products or services. Black is a color associated with luxury, but it’s difficult to apply in an infographic without creating a depressing mood. When done correctly, it is often part of a simple color scheme such as the black-white used by Chanel or the dark brown and black used by Nespresso.
Infographics for the millennial audience. Fortunately, millennials have a more open mind, though they also have their preferences. In general, bright colors are more pleasing to them than dull and sad ones, most likely because they use social media daily.
There are three ways to choose colors according to the color wheel: monochrome color schemes, triadic color schemes and complementary color schemes.
If you aren’t an expert designer, you should take great care in choosing appropriate color schemes. The reason is that the theory does not always work well when other elements such as typefaces or pie charts with data come into play.
These can be created by selecting a single color and modifying other characteristics such as the value and saturation to arrive at other tones and shades of the same hue.
The value is the amount of black or white that we add to a certain color, so that the chosen color becomes lighter or darker. It is a very simple way to choose a color scheme and it always works.
You can also use saturation to get variations of the same color and complete the scheme.
Saturation affects the brightness and purity of the color, but you should choose it wisely because unlike with value, not all saturation combinations work well together.
Following this type is considered the easiest way to choose color schemes for beginners, although you must be careful when choosing them. You can create this type of color scheme by choosing three colors that are equidistant from each other on the color wheel.
This type of color scheme combines contrasting colors on the color wheel, like red and green or blue and orange.
This system works best if one of the colors is dominant and the other serves to create contrast. You should choose color variations carefully to avoid creating a jarring effect.
If you think choosing a color scheme for your infographic is complicated, then wait till you have to choose colors for your graphs and charts.
Why? Because the colors chosen should help viewers understand the data more quickly in order to make decisions.
That's why in this case, it's best to put aside risky choices in favor of clarity.
If the graph represents a progression, my recommendation is that you use single-color gradations, whereas if the graph represents the comparison of more than two variables, the colors should have enough contrast to be distinguishable at first glance.
When choosing color schemes for graphs, keep these tips in mind:
In addition to graphics, problems also arise when choosing colors for text. Although color theory works best when applied to graphics, when it comes to text, keep these recommendations in mind:
Contrast is important. If the text cannot be easily read, your color scheme needs to be modified.
Colors that are too bright may have unexpected results when viewed on different devices.
Always remember that the Internet is governed by a system of colors called "hexadecimal values."
These colors are part of a numbering system that allows them to look the same on all devices. Their range is much less (216 colors) and they are represented by a code of 6 letters or numbers.
Black text on white background will always read better than the inverted version: When the text is white, the black background tends to eat up the white space. If this happens, use bold typefaces to make the white mass larger.
To conclude, I want to summarize everything we've reviewed and boil it down to 10 tips on how to choose the right color schemes for your infographics.
1. If you are not a professional designer, choose simple color schemes, such as those based on a color and its variations of hue and saturation.
2. The chosen colors should have sufficient contrast between them.
4. Black text on white background reads better than the opposite.
5. Keep the user in mind when you plan infographics.
6. Never act without a plan.
7. If you use pie or bar charts, choose a color and then create gradations of that same color.
8. For comparative graphics, choose colors with sufficient contrast.
9. There are colors that are traditionally associated with a target audience: Respect this rule.
10. It is not necessary to be a designer to create infographics with harmonious color schemes. Look for inspiration in social media.
Would you like to share your own experience applying color theory principles to infographics? What is your process for choosing harmonious color schemes for your infographics?
Let's chat in the comments section and hope to see you on social media!
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