Design Smarter: Learn to Generate Color

I will admit, color is one of my serious areas of growth when it comes to designing presentations. While I can manage to reasonably dress myself in suitable colors, the choosing of workable colors for a set of slides is something that takes me longer than any other part of the presentation process, especially if I choose to go it alone. This is why I appreciate the sites I’ll share with you today as well as the techniques I’ve learned from them in growing my design skills.  I’ll use the image below, courtesy of Mohamed Muha, for my examples.

Photo Credit: muha... via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: muha… via Compfight cc

First, experiment with the color wheel on Adobe’s Kuler

Adobe’s color generator, Kuler, is part of their Creative Cloud, a storehouse of tools creatives can use to collaborate, share, and create work. When I first discovered Kuler, I was intimidated–the site on first glance is for professional designers–folks who understand RGB, CMYK, Hex, and HSB values (not me at the time). However, Kuler’s user-friendly tools (creating a palette from an image, color rule options that allow users to choose from types of color schemes–analogous, monochromatic–without formal training, and the thousands of color palettes made available by Kuler’s community of users) quickly helped me create custom palettes that made sense both emotionally and aesthetically. Not sure where to start in Kuler? A great place is the create from image tool, which allows you to upload an image (ideally, one that communicates the emotional tone of your presentation) and create a color palette from that image.

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 5.32.34 PM

This is the “colorful palette” I created using Kuler’s image-based color generator.

Shifting to the color wheel option with the same base colors creates a new variety of options.

Shifting to the color wheel option with the same base colors creates a new variety of options.

Next, draw inspiration for capturing mood and tone from Design Seeds

So, Kuler’s algorithm does a great job of grabbing pleasing colors from an image, but as you will learn, it often misses the point when it comes to mood and tone. Learning to grow as a designer means immersing oneself in the processes that lead to design success. After a time, you may be called upon to create a scheme without the help of a generator, so learning a bit from a seasoned designer can only help you grow. Design Seeds, which is curated by Jessica Colaluca, a veteran designer and consultant who has worked with Ford, Timberland, and Reebok, is a fantastic starting point for color generation inspiration. Jessica’s site, Design Seeds, features hundreds of original color palettes organized by color value and theme. You can also gain some insight into her process by checking out the about section of Design Seeds. Her blog, Fresh Hues, features even more color palettes organized by color as well as Pinterest-inspired mood boards.

One of my favorite new design-seeds palettes--I love the vibrancy!

One of my favorite new design-seeds palettes–I love the vibrancy!

The best part of Design Seeds is Jessica’s process and her treatise in defense of true color generation. Her process may surprise you, but it works. First of all, Jessica begins by tracking color and design trends; she then creates a list of images and colors that align with those trending moods. Next, she purchases photos and modifies them to create precision color; she then imports the images into Illustrator and mixes each color swatch. Finally, she polishes her work and shares it with the world under a creative commons license via Design Seeds. What is impressive about her process is her sensitivity to mood. What she often finds with color generators is that they miss important colors that the human eye would naturally gravitate towards:

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 5.41.46 PM

Can you see how Kuler provides a starting point to creating strong color palettes, but that is all–sensitivity to mood, tone, trends, and design inspiration will take you further than a generator or color picker can. As Jessica asserts:

“The quality that a person has that makes them love color, is the same one which is critical in creating palettes.” -Jessica Colaluca

I’ll leave you with my first attempt at a custom palette–it’s based on color grabbing, but my focus was on mood and vibrancy. We may have much to learn in developing color skills, but with tools like Kuler and Design Seeds, both you and I can be well on our way to smarter design!

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One thought on “Design Smarter: Learn to Generate Color

  1. […] also posted “Design Smarter: Learn To Generate Color,” a must-read for slide designers.  She shares tips for how we can work to create effective color […]

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