My journey in Colors for Communication, Products, and Environments under Professor Mark Mentzer 51–221
This course covers the fundamentals of color and covers various long and short term project explorations to understand the application of color to real world projects. I came in with zero background about how colors work, always relying on the minimalist black and white aesthetic to make my projects look polished.
This class inspired me and pushed me to embrace new color combinations and really understand how different colors and color combinations can evoke differing emotions, attitudes, and contexts.
Fundamentals of Color
A key thing to understand is that color only means something in context. You must put context around color and think about colors in relation to one another.
There are seven color contrasts we learnt about as part of our key colors’ vocabulary:
I. contrast of hue
- How we distinguish between two or more adjacent colors. High hue contrast examples are red/blue/yellow or white/black (same intensity) vs. low hue contrasts like dark blue/blue or black/grey (messing with one single hue)
II. light-dark contrast (value contrast)
- Refers to the relative lightness or darkness of a color. White and black are the extreme example of value contrast.
III. warm-cold contrast
- How hues compare in relation to other hues. Certain hues will appear warmer/cooler than the hues next to them. Blue-Green and red-orange represent opposite ends of the warm-cool contrast.
IV. complementary contrast
- Two colors are complimentary if their pigments mixed together with a neutral gray. There is only one color complement to a given hue — usually the color across the color wheel.
V. simultaneous contrast
- For any given color, the eye simultaneously seeks its opposite and generates it if it is not already present in the visual field. This color creates a simultaneous contrast. This usually occurs between two colors that are not exact opposites (ex: blue and orange)
VI. contrast of saturation
- The degree of purity of a color — it is the contrast between intense colors and diluted colors. Increased saturation occurs with black shades and decreased saturation occurs with white shades.
VII. contrast of extension
- The relative area of a color. How much of the color do we need? For example, a yellow accent among light tints can be much smaller to serve its purpose.
We started the class with a exploration of different colored tiles in order to understand basic color concepts, such as understanding the difference between hue and saturation.
Packaging Project + Experience Design
This first project was about creating an afternoon snack experience surrounding a fruit or vegetable. For this “experience” an important part was creating packaging along with any materials for interaction with the snack. The snack I selected was a salty, creamy avocado!
Inspiration — Here are selected mood boards for design and packaging from when I first started this project — feel free to view the rest of my inspirations on Pinterest .
I wanted to evoke a feeling of playfulness while someone is snacking on the avocado and that’s why I decided to use bright, saturated hues and cartoon-like images and tracings of the avocado throughout the entirety of the packaging.
Process — I spoke to potential users and used paints to come with a color composition and form that would lead to the most enjoyable snacking experience
Iteration One — Packaging + Design
I designed several versions of form to gauge what experience would be the most engaging. Based on critique the slim and tall design was the most liked for the afternoon snack experience. A funny critique I got was that the wider design looked like a container for popcorn chicken. HA!
I also designed rice mats for the avocados to be eaten on. I went through several color explorations to decide to go with lighter tones reds and oranges to complement the packaging design. Since it was my first time using rice paper, it was interesting to see how the texture and build of the material drastically changed how the colors were printed. For example, something very pastel colored on my computer screen often showed up dull on the rice paper.
Final Concept — I made some storyboards to think about how my avocado snack would be consumed and then took pictures at the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, PA! Here is my model, Jackie Hu, enjoying the avocado snacking experience!
In this project, I was tasked with designing a storefront that could seamlessly fit into a Pittsburgh neighborhood. Additionally, I had to create some sort of takeaway or memorabilia that would encourage the customer to continue to come back to the store.
I decided to build a yoga studio/wellness storefront on Murray Ave in the Squirrel Hill area of Pittsburgh. My takeaway is a yoga mat carrier/rubber band. Feel free to check out my mood board on Pinterest!
Color Scheme Selection
I first looked at other yoga stores and wellness companies to come up with some color combinations that could work for my storefront.
I realized pretty quickly that I wanted to make people feel calm and thus wanted to use cool colors (see above) and a more open floor plan with lots of glass windows peering into the store.
I noticed that there was an issue of wellness studios being hidden or tucked away in upstairs corners of buildings. I wanted to eliminate that and make it more obvious that the storefront is a space for wellness. Thus, I literally printed yoga positions on the walls of the storefront, drawing inspiration from a bike store I really liked.
I first started with drawing out some images and embedding it onto this storefront above.
Then, I went ahead and executed the idea of having more windows.
I designed my yoga mat carrier in different colors with different quotes to encourage people to feel positive as they leave their yoga session!
I ended up with this as my final iteration for my storefront and mat carrier.
In future iterations of this project, I hope to design the yoga mats themselves and see if I can design the yoga mat carrier using real materials, like some sort of stretchy fabric.
Reflection from Class
- Color is everywhere! And often follows a very logical structure. Something I took away from this class is that it’s important to have a color strategy and context around your work rather than just blindly picking color combinations that look nice.
- Articulating subjectivity is extremely difficult. There were so many critiques for this class where I had trouble verbalizing why I felt a certain way about a color combination or placement that I had tried. The key is being purposeful in applying the fundamentals of color to your daily speech so it becomes a part of your natural design vocabulary.
- It’s okay to use intuition but it should be informed intuition. This one is pretty self explanatory.
- Every decision should have three alternatives.
Other Color Experiments — — — —
There were a lot of places in my other classes where I was able to apply what I learned in colors, which is really exciting!
Phipps Color Transition — identifying color transitions in a botanical garden
This project was started in class, but I hope to continue with it and make it some sort of promotional poster for Phipps in the future.
Lemon Conceptual Poster Design
For my digital service innovation class, my team and I had to design a concept poster for our digital service. We created a digital service, Lemon, that helps track when items in your fridge go “bad”, sends tracking notifications, and helps you identify repurposing opportunities.
I employed a complementary contrast color strategy in order to provide lemon a more playful attitude. I also wanted the poster to pop in a sea of gray and black posters.
Design Thinking Manual
For my design thinking class, we were tasked with building a manual — everything from content to design to binding. My book discussed how dance and design are similar in that things can look simple on the outside but actually have many complex layers to it. We can incorporate a lot about dancing into our daily practice as designers!
Future Developments in Color
I learned a lot of fundamentals on color theory which I hope to apply to my practice in human computer interaction and further design. A couple projects I’m interested in working on to continue growing my colors skills are:
- Designing my own coloring book and showing how colors can be used throughout to send a particular message
- Doing Print and Web Analysis — this was an idea my Professor Mark Mentzer gave me. Basically the goal is to conduct an analysis on magazines and web platforms to identify how type and color work to achieve a particular goal. I would be asking questions like:
What colors give a website a unique personality/a magazine particular character?
What do spreads of different kinds of magazines look like (news and outdoors magazines vs. fashion and gossip magazines)?
This could be super useful to quickly come up with practical color schemes based on the industry/product I’m working on in the future (and also push boundaries beyond what is common!)