The Expert Amateur Guide to Color

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I’ve got a touch of red/green color blindness- or what I’ve recently learned is actually called color deficiency. This means that I can struggle to differentiate between certain shades and combinations of red, green, brown, and orange. Have you ever played around with one of the Ishihara color deficiency tests? Those are pretty much my worst nightmare. I do fine with most of the color combinations, but when I try to differentiate the red/green pages, I see very little difference.

Created in Canva

Most of the time, my red/green color deficiency goes unnoticed. However, when it comes time to match clothing, choose paint colors, or choose a color scheme for my digital projects, I run into problems. To cope, I’ve developed a series of workarounds. While I am certainly not an accomplished designer, these tips and tricks have allowed me to shorten the learning curve. So, without further ado…The Expert Amateur Guide to Color.

Know the Basics

When working in a digital environment, there are several ways to choose a color. Some applications offer ready-made color palettes. However, if you want to use a specific shade, you will need to add it manually. To do that, you need to know either the HEX or RGB code corresponding to that particular color. Finding those codes is fairly painless (stay tuned).

RGB stands for red, green, and blue. Shades are created by combining different values of each color until the desired shade is achieved. With RGB codes, 0 indicates no color and 255 indicates full color.

Hex codes are basically a shorthand variant of RGB codes. Instead of using the often laborious RGB long form, the user need only enter a hashtag followed by a corresponding 6 digit mixture of letters and numbers. When you change a number, you change the color.

Fortunately, many modern computer applications offer tools allowing users to enter these codes directly. The Microsoft Powerpoint color picker (shown below) is just one example.

Find Your Inspiration

One of my favorite workarounds is to choose a color from something I already have. This works really well if I need to design something that matches a company logo and or if I have already found something particularly inspiring.

I recently collaborated with a group to create an elearning module for my child’s teacher to assist in their efforts to integrate Kahoot! with Zoom amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Our entire color scheme was based on a color we grabbed from the Kahoot logo.

By: Jenny Erickson, Jennifer Dahlmann, and Jessica Brand

Grabbing colors from existing images is easy. Many software applications offer an eyedropper tool that will snag the color code from a specific source image. There are also several chrome extensions with this functionality.

Once you’ve got the code, you can use a color scheme generator (such as this one) to find complementary colors to complete your palette. I can’t recommend these online generators enough. Not only do many include an eyedropper tool, but they’ve already done the hard work of finding colors that match.

Created in Canva

Borrow from a Pro

I was once told that great educators always borrow from the experts. This is especially true for choosing colors—color deficient or not. The internet is full of great resources for color schemes that have already been created by talented designers. In building my personal website, I used a palette from this blog post. The author shares 50 color schemes from well-designed websites complete with hex codes. I love that I was able to see a finished product and then adapt the color scheme to suit my needs.

Stay in Safe Territory

If choosing colors isn’t one of your specialties, don’t be overly ambitious. Keep it simple, choose one to three coordinating colors and consistently use them across your design. A little color can go a long way.

There is so much to learn about color. Enough to warrant a deep dive into true expert territory. However, for us expert amateurs out there- a little bit can go a long way. Do you have workarounds for using color to design beautiful digital products? I’d love to hear about them…

Thanks for Reading


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *