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Ask HN: How do you pick colors
69 points by matthodan on Oct 3, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 34 comments
How do you pick the colors that you use in logos and sites? I've been using Photoshop's color libraries for years to find attractive color combos, but I wanted to see how others have approached the task.



http://kuler.adobe.com/ is a really good resource for this. You can name a general description of a color you want ("dirt" or "angry" or "light blue" or "cloudy"), and you'll get a ton of color combos, with a ton of complimentary colors thrown in for free.


I find the color schemes don't translate well to a web design from the format that they present on Kuler. But maybe that's just me.


I personally use Kuler's color picker (http://kuler.adobe.com/#create/fromacolor) for my color schemes. It works really, really well.


I've used http://www.colourlovers.com/ for years. Great site.


http://colorschemedesigner.com/ is also nice, it also include emulator for different eye diseases



"... observing nature is far more interesting than just trying to think about things ..."

Nature.

I discovered this back in 2007 playing around with images I'd taken out my kitchen window ~ http://www.flickr.com/photos/bootload/sets/72157603995704881... I also keep a hand colour set on flickr for reference ~ http://www.flickr.com/photos/bootload/sets/72157600195794663...

Back in 2007: "If I ever need to do things like come up with ideas observation of nature and complex systems such as the web is always a good place to start. Here I'm looking at colour & colour schemes. Never would have thought of this combo and ratios" ~ http://www.flickr.com/photos/bootload/541666109/


I use Color Scheme Designer, it's so easy to find complementary colors and its a beautiful UI.

http://colorschemedesigner.com/



And moving beyond the visual to branding: if there is an entrenched competitor in your space that uses a certain color (lets say blue), pick an opposite color (say red or green). If you color your logo/colorscheme the same as them, you are just confirming visually that your brand is a copy of them, and not positioning yourself as different, which will make it harder to compete (gain mindshare as the marketers say).


So for example, if you're competing with national geographic, do NOT choose yellow :)


Competing with digg, do NOT choose blue. etc.


I 'lift' them from paintings :)


If you're really interested in how artists approach color and theory, you might pick up a copy of Kandinsky's Concerning the Spiritual in Art, which puts forth a modernist/Bauhaus color theory:

http://books.google.com/books?id=mG-VRWgfpuYC

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wassily_Kandinsky#Concerning_th...


Also, Josef Albers and his book Interaction of Color.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josef_Albers


Thanks for the links. IMHO artists have tried for centuries to capture 'moods' with colour and they did a much better job that I could ever do.

Kandinsky's book is interesting even if what he is saying is mostly metaphorical. However, some of his observations were spot on as that of describing the case of the German patient with color synesthesia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grapheme-color_synesthesia

Fascinating topic!


I use a lot of the sites mentioned elsewhere on this page, but other than that, one thing I also do is find pictures with color combinations in them that "jump out" at me and then sample those colors into a palette. This is how to get the most interesting combinations in my experience.


In the same way that I wouldn't ask an artist to design a software library, I don't expect myself to choose colors, layout, or design correctly. When shown choices from designers, I can tell which ones I like, and which ones work, and so on, but hacking graphic aesthetics is something that takes years to get good at, as any kind of hacking.

I would recommend that you hire a designer, or make friends with some designers who can help you with this.


I usually consider the psychology of the colors I use, especially from the point of view of whether or not I am designing a commercial site. In addition it is important to consider the age group of your website visitors.

I've written an article about my take on color psychology in web pages:

http://experimentgarden.blogspot.com/2009/06/psychology-of-c...



http://aviary.com has a great color picker called Toucan. It allows you to pick colours spaced out around the colour wheel based on a few parameters. Also does the colour-blindness emulator. You can check out colour palettes that others have created as well and modify them to become your own as you see fit.


Sometimes I semi-arbitrarily pick two colors that feel right with each other (on a white background), and start there.

I makes adjustments over time, the more I look at something while I work on it.

Often I poke around with assorted tools to see what pops up.

http://delicious.com/jamesbritt/colorpicker


I pick a nice photo of nature and use a "color palette generator" (search for this, etc.)


colr.org is a good resource for this


Also this palette generator: http://www.degraeve.com/color-palette/


I wear very vibrant colors in life- lots of yellows, oranges and sky blues

This carries through in my designs-

So usually start with a color and may see a site with a scheme and alter it or use one of the color scheme choosers in google



http://www.colourlovers.com/ is a great place to start. Loads of color pallets and textures.


I look for nice colors that aren't blue. Too many things use blue.

I also use the previously mentioned colourlovers and colorschemedesigner.


Completely randomly, and it shows:-/


I see alot of posts from the design perspective but what is your brand trying to convey? Who are your customers? The sure fire way is to generate lets say 20 schemes, get friends, family, and biz partners to vote on their top 5. Get a collection of top 3-10 color schemes and show them to possible customers. Take their input and there you have a color scheme that has a high likelyhood of working for your target market. Attractiveness does not equal branding good, ex this famous brand: http://www.arrogantbastard.com/


oh and a few more famous brands to back my argument for colors focus on your brand (story)... http://www.google.com http://www.purwater.com/#/healthy%20water,%20healthy%20you http://www.toyota.com/prius-hybrid/ http://www.teslamotors.com/

As you see the color schemes are only there to accentuate the brand. Do customers buy teslas in order to be green or because their a luxury sports car? Their color scheme is chosen on the basis of their brand and who their customers are.


Do you think it helps to use colors that you find in brands that people are already familiar with?


The colors you choose shouldn't matter on what others choose. The colors you choose should convey your brand. Doing something different with your color scheme may even be a benefit in regards to being the purple cow.




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