Color basics

I am diverging from my career as a writer and entering the world of UX design. Why? Lots of reasons. A big one is that I really need my career to have color.

Some tools of my new trade.

My first memories are mostly about color. My mom’s soft green eyes, the periwinkle purple + bubblegum pink of my first bike, my kindergarten teacher’s candy-apple-red lipstick.

This lip color belongs to Mrs. Garvin, the greatest kindergarten teacher there ever was.

I think asking “what’s your favorite color?” is the best way to learn more about a person you just met. One of my deepest fears in life is waking up one morning and finding myself colorblind. I am so grateful for being able to see in color.

Color is one of my favorite things about existence.

Yet I know so little about it.

So, I’m self-teaching. Here are some of my findings.

Color in a [muted] [hazel]nutshell

Color is a pulsation of electromagnetic energy. When wavelengths measuring 635 nanometers of this energy passes through our pupils and hit the photoreceptive cone cells at the back of our retinas, information is passed along the optic nerve to our brain letting us know we’re seeing burnt orange. Or muted teal. Or peachy pear.

Color actually isn’t all that complicated.

But despite this, and the lengthy opines of your graphic designer friend, color isn’t complicated. There are really just three things at play:

  1. Hue
  2. Saturation
  3. Value
Balls in varying hues, at bright saturation and medium value.

On hues

“Hue” is the same thing as “color.” They’re synonyms. Really.

On saturation

Saturation refers to a color’s brightness or intensity. A fully-saturated hue is fully-bright, whereas a desaturated hue is described as being muted, or greyed-out.

Fun fact: browns and greys are simply desaturated versions of a particular hue. Browns are typically desaturated versions of red, oranges, and yellows, while greys are generally highly muted versions of colors.
Another fun fact: Greys are either cool (muted versions of any color from blue-green to violet) or warm (muted versions of any color ranging from yellow to red; they’ve been muted beyond the point of the browns). Neural greys have no hint of any color.

On value

Value is how light or dark a color appears. Value establishes clarity, where one thing ends and another begin. Value might be the most important since hue and saturated cant exist without it.

No value = no color.

Primary colors

Sometime in the 1700s, someone created a color wheel schematic for showing how colors relate to each other. This color wheel illustrates that there are three primary colors: red, yellow, & blue. Without these colors, the other colors wouldn't exist. All other colors are mixes of the primary colors.

Secondary colors

When two primary colors are mixed, you get secondary colors. There are three secondary colors: orange, green, & violet.

Tertiary colors

When you mix a primary color with a secondary color, you get a tertiary color. There are six tertiary colors:

  1. red-orange
  2. yellow-orange
  3. yellow-green
  4. blue-green
  5. blue-violet
  6. red-violet

So much more to learn

I plan dedicate a future post to the exploration of color theory and how it applies to human psychology & design.

Happy fall, I hope you enjoy some colorful leaf peeping!

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