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January 25, 2010 / marden928

Color or no color? That is the question!

In my years as a visual communications professional, I’ve worked with all types of companies, consultants, and government entities.  And with each of these interactions, attitudes around color seem to differ greatly – sometimes for good reason, other times based on fear.  In general I find there are a few basic reasons as to why indivudals opt to stick to black-and-white or a monotone color scheme:

  • They’re German – in many German circles of business, a monotone color scheme is deemed more credible
  • Someone is color blind (we’re all afraid of what we can’t perceive, perfectly understandable)
  • Fear of getting into a color preference debate – it’s amazing how heated a conversation can get because someone doesn’t like a specific hue
  • Desire to stay strategic in all communications decisions and no familiarity with a strategy for color scheme.

All of these reasons really do make sense for avoiding color in exhibits.   However, the impact of good color choices is really something:  the right colors can help emotionally connect your audience to your content, enhance comprehension, and help your audience connect with you better!    It’s the odd speaker that doesn’t want more of a connection (the world we live in is all about relationships, after all!)

Designers are already quite well versed in color theory – which is great when you’ve already got a great eye for color.  Also great if you’ve already got a main color to work from. (I’ll cover basic color theory in another blog posting)

But what if you’re working from scratch?  Here are my suggestions:

  • What colors are already frequently used and loved by your audience? ( i.e., If you’re speaking to Coke, you probably want to make sure to use their red)
  • How do you want your audience to feel about your content?  What colors will your audience associate with those emotions? ( i.e. Green could mean prosperity or progress ahead; Red could mean stop,  royalty, your audience’s competitor,  or danger)  Don’t forget to take cultural norms in mind! (both corporate and otherwise)
  • If you’re in a team, ask the team what their communications objectives are for the presentation: desired emotional responses,  what points need to sink in with your audience the most, how they want the audience to think of your organization after the presentation
  • Consider your stakeholders?  How will they respond to the content you’re going to present?  (i.e. You probably don’t want to use cheery colors if you are giving a presentation about headcount reduction)

After you’ve gone through this exercise, you will very likely have your main colors.   If you’re uneasy about the next steps in putting those colors together, no problem!   Many ppt programs have preset colors you can work with – find a grouping based on your main colors (try not to have more than 1-2 bright colors, you don’t want to overstimulate your audience with color, remember the color is there to help your audience focus on your content).  Of course, using a color scheme that anyone can use isn’t going to make your presentation as distinctive.  So, if you’re looking for a bit more customization, but do desire a preset color scheme, I’d suggest buying a book of color schemes.  PANTONE has a number of books that you can choose from.

For those of you interested in getting a bit more adventurous in choosing your own color schemes, stay tuned for my next blog entry!


Leave a Comment
  1. Dave Gray / Jan 26 2010 12:19 am

    Color is an interesting topic. For one thing, sometimes I think you stand out more by being contrary. With so many things being digital these days, color is no more expensive than black and white, so more people are using it. With more people doing things in color, black and white or monochrome solutions might stand out more.

    I always like to start in black and white because it’s simpler. By making something in black and white first, I can consider carefully how color helps and whether it’s necessary.

    My rule is “black and white first, add color sparingly and if it makes sense.”

    • marden928 / Jan 26 2010 4:11 pm

      Great point! Thanks for the reminder!

      I’ve heard your rule before from various colleagues over the years – and whole-heartedly agree with it when someone is flushing out their basic visuals (gotta get the basic message down first). And I agree that some presenters really do hide behind big fancy colors instead of flushing out their message first.

      As far as actual color scheme (and black and white qualifies, I think), I’ll point to audience preferences. It is really all about comprehension, yes? (well, let’s hope anyway!)

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