The Use of Colour in Design


6 minute read // Design

From vibrant colours to black colour: Colour plays a vital role in design and everyday life. It can attract your eye to a specific image, or trigger a certain mood or feeling in you. It can even communicate important information to you without using words at all.

A picture dipicting a trafflic light in black colour.
Animated traffic light

So, how do we know which colours work together, and which ones don’t? The answer is simple: colour theory.

Artists and designers have followed colour theory for centuries. However, anyone can know more about it. They can make you confident in a wide variety of situations. Whether you are choosing colours for a design or choose the colours of the clothes you will buy. All it takes is a little insight, and then you’ll look at the colours in a completely different way.

The basics

Do you remember what you learned in school about primary and secondary colours? Then you already have some knowledge of colour theory. Red and yellow make orange, yellow and blue make green, and blue and red make purple. If we mix these colours, we get more gradients like red-orange and yellow-green. All together, they form what is known as the “colour wheel.”

Color grid
A colour grid centered in the middle

Hue, saturation, and value

These terms may not have been used in everyday life before, but they are key to a more understanding of the shades of a single colour.

Hue is just another word to express colour. As for saturation, it means intensity, it determines whether the colour is dull or vibrant. As for value, it is due to whether the colour is dark or light. Gradually from black to white. Combining these gives us a lot of different shades of colour.

To create professional-looking colour schemes there are formulas based on something called “colour harmony”.


It refers to a single hue in a colour palette that is expanded upon adding variations in saturation and values.

choosing color in color grid
3 lines choosing the colour in a grid


These are the consecutive colours on the colour wheel Like reds and oranges, or cooler colours like blues and greens.

picking multiple colors in grid
Example of picking multiple colours in grid


This one refers to colours that are the opposite of each other on the colour wheel. For example, blue and orange, or red and green. To avoid seemingly simple complementary colours, diversify them by using other shades that are dark, light, or faded.


This harmony system uses three evenly spaced colours on the colour wheel, taking the form of an equilateral triangle. These combinations tend to be striking, especially when combined with primary or secondary colours Therefore, be careful when using them in your work.

picking complimentary colors in grid
Complementary / opposite colours in colour grid

There are many more, just check for online colour wheels. Most of the time, you can choose your harmony.

Black & White

A white glowing orb hovering above a hand in a dark room, showing the contrast between the colour black and the colour white.

In the colourful world of art and design, the discussion around the use of the colour black and the colour white generates an intriguing dialogue. Are these two extremes of the spectrum even considered colours? The question may seem clear-cut, but the answer tends to sway based on the context you’re viewing it from.

Scientifically, black is perceived as the absence of all colour. When an object absorbs all visible light and reflects none, the result is what we perceive as the black colour. This occurrence has led to physics often referring to black as the void of all colours. Conversely, white occurs when an object reflects all light wavelengths, merging them to create what we perceive as ‘white’ light. In the realm of light physics, white is thus a composite of all colours.

However, the perception significantly shifts when we enter the domains of art, design, and visual communication. Despite their scientific definitions, black and white hold their ground as potent elements of the artist’s colour palette. They are employed to add depth, create contrast, and stimulate emotions, thereby earning their status as ‘true’ colours in this sphere.

Black colour is frequently associated with power, formality, elegance, and enigma. It signifies strength and authority, and it’s also synonymous with depth and sophistication. Applying the black colour in your imagery can introduce a remarkable contrast, effectively amplifying the impact of other colours and adding a fascinating depth to your design. The black colour has the power to draw attention to certain elements, guide the viewer’s path through the artwork, and underscore the importance of specific aspects within a composition.

In contrast, white introduces a different set of attributes to a design. Representing purity, cleanliness, and simplicity, white instils a sense of spaciousness, tranquillity, and freshness. White can temper the visual intensity of other colours, creating pauses or ‘breathing spaces’ within a design, offering the viewer’s eyes a moment of respite.

The strategic usage and balance of black colour and white within your visual imagery is a crucial aspect of design. Their application can vary, from creating striking silhouettes to serving as a backdrop that enhances other colours, or as the mainstay of a monochrome theme. The black colour and white, though contrasting, contribute to a certain harmony in an image — a balance that helps other colours shine and intensifies the overall visual message.

The dos and dont’s

There are a few dos and dont’s when it comes to colour. For example, have you ever seen colours that appear to vibrate if you place them together? The solution is to tone down these colours, and there’s a simple way to do that.

Start with a single colour, and try to adjust it, by brightening, darkening, or deflating it. Sometimes a little bit of contrast is all your colour palette needs.

Readability is an important factor in any design. Your colour should be easy to read and comfortable on the eye. Sometimes it might mean that no colour is used at all, or at least not on every little detail. Neutrals like black, white, and gray can help you balance your design. But when you use colour then, it will stand out more.

Each colour communicates a message (to whoever looks at it). It is important to bear in mind the nature of your project and then choose the right colours. For example, bright colours tend to give a fun and modern vibe. Faded colours seem to have something to do with business.

While in the scientific realm, the black colour may be a void of colour and white a composite of all colours, their vital role and impact in the sphere of art and design undeniably assign them as ‘colours’ in their own right. The black colour, alongside white, forms a crucial part of an artist’s palette, and their effective use can transform a visually pleasing image into a compelling, memorable masterpiece.

Sometimes, it depends on the context. Colours are amazing in their flexibility.

You can find ideas for colour schemes in all kinds of interesting places. From advertising and marketing, websites, and even famous artworks.

We hope you have enjoyed learning basic information about colour. Don’t forget about colour-blind people. We explain more about that in our other article called: Accessible web design explained.

We at Flatline Agency, official Shopify Plus Partners, are here to help you take your business to the next step, including custom development, design, and marketing. If you are interested, please feel free to contact us.

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