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Colour | Strategies

Illustrating colour theory via applied colour strategies including chords and keys
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Analogous colour is a colour strategy based on a strong degree of hue similarity. Saturation levels and tonal values can be varied to provide focus and contrast legibility. Research indicates that analogous colour schemes tend to engender feelings of comfort. Colour illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD © Design Research Associates.
Lucja Szwedo’s apartment in central Warsaw features saturated yellow and orange  design accents nested within a neutral colour scheme. Analogous colour palette illustration by Zena O’Connor. Image credit: Inrichting-Huis.com, October 2017.
A Fall palette featuring analogous autumn colours based on tints and shades of orange. Colour palette illustration by Zena O’Connor featuring an image from Instagram  @signebay  2018 fall colours #fallcolors #autumncolours

Analogous Colour

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Extended analogous colour schemes are characterised by a range of hues from colour families that are aligned on  a colour wheel. Colour illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD © Design Research Associates.
Analogous (extended) Colour schemes feature a range of hues from colour families that are aligned on the colour wheel, such as yellow, orange, red and purple. Pegging hues at similar tonal value and saturation levels contributes to visual cohesion ©️ Colour illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD.

Analogous (Extended) Colour

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Bold, saturated contrasting colours and a shattered graphic design signal the psychological themes of Trance (2013), a British thriller directed by Danny Boyle. Under traditional colour theory, contrasting colours lie on opposite sides of a colour wheel model. Colour illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD © Design Research Associates.
Contrasting colours are defined as hues on opposite sides of a colour wheel. Some theorists refer to them as ‘complementary’ colours. In colour design, contrasting hues tend to intensify each other and add vibrancy. Different saturation and tonal value levels enhance legibity and create focus. Colour illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD © Design Research Associates.

Contrasting Colour

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Contrasting Secondary Colours create unusual colour combinations beyond the more familiar contrasting colours such as red-green, blue-orange and yellow-purple. This example features contrasting secondary colours - orange and green. Colour illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD © Design Research Associates.
Photograph of a barn with vintage filter features an appealing colour palette of subtly contrasting secondary colours. Colour palette illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD.
Contrasting secondary colours of orange and green create a welcoming interior design that is enriched with texture and timber. Colour palette illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD.

Contrasting Secondaries

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Triadic colour schemes include three hues drawn from different parts of the colour wheel. Some theorists refer to Triadic colour as ‘split-complementary’, where a key hue is selected plus two additional hues selected from either side of the key hue’s contrasting hue. Triadic colour illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD.
Apartment chic. A subtle, triadic colour scheme featuring Dulux Colour of the Year 2019 - Spiced Honey. Colour palette illustration by Zena O’Connor using an image from Dulux.
The subtle, restrained triadic colour scheme enlivens this essentially achromatic interior. Triadic colour schemes feature hues that are roughly equidistant on the colour wheel. Triadic palette illustration by Zena O’Connor featuring an image of a residence by Studio Daskal Laperre.

Triadic Colour Schemes

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Tetradic colour schemes (also referred to as double complementary) feature two pairs of contrasting (complementary) colours. In this example, blue plus orange and green and red. Tetradic colour schemes enliven and add a sense energy. Maintaining similarity of tonal value and saturation levels will enhance visual cohesion. Tetradic colour illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD.
This subtle tetradic (double complementary) colour scheme features tinted, greyed hues. The hues have very faint undertones of two pairs of complementary colours: mauve and yellow plus green and red. Triadic colour palette illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD.
Tetradic colour scheme (Double complementary) features in this restaurant design - blue and orange plus green and red. Double complementary colours definitely add a sense energy and enliven a colour scheme. Tetradic colour scheme illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD, using an image of Tel Aviv's Ya Pan bistro designed by local studio Pitsou Kedem, 2018.

Tetradic Colour Schemes

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Pentadic colour schemes feature five individual hues. To enhance visual cohesion among a group of disparate hues, aim for a degree of similarity in tonal value and saturation level. Pentadic colour palette illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD.
Pentadic colour schemes feature five individual hues. To enhance visual cohesion among a group of disparate hues, aim for a degree of similarity in tonal value and saturation level. Pentadic colour palette by Zena O’Connor, PhD, featuring an image from ‘Your Uncertain Shadow’, Studio Olafur Eliasson, July 2019.
Pentadic colour schemes feature five individual hues. To enhance visual cohesion among a group of disparate hues, aim for a degree of similarity in tonal value and saturation level. Pentadic colour palette by Zena O’Connor, PhD, featuring an image of Sugarhouse Studios Stratford, conceived and built by Assemble. July 2019.

Pentadic Colour Scheme

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Monotone colour schemes are characterised by two or more hues pegged at the same or very similar tonal value - essentially a minor tonal chord. Hue variety adds visual interest while monotone tonal value adds a restrained, calm ambience. Colour Fundamentals - Monotone Colour palette by Zena O’Connor, PhD.
Light and airy, this simple yet appealing restaurant colour scheme features hues and tonal values that enhance the timber furniture and features. Colour Fundamentals - Monotone Colour palette by Zena O’Connor, PhD.
Monotone grey + muted green colour scheme is enhanced with subtle, barely there white accents and black line details. The colour scheme creates a calm, tranquil atmosphere suitable for purpose. MIA Yoga designed by Crosby Studios, 2018. Colour Fundamentals- Monotone Colour palette by Zena O’Connor, PhD, featuring an image from Casa Vogue.

Monotone

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Monochromatic colour strategy features one hue only in a range of nuanced tonal values and chroma levels. Different tonal values and chroma levels help to create focus and can ehance contrast legibility. Monochromatic colour illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD © Design Research Associates.
A gentle monochromatic palette featuring nuanced tints and shades of orange (hex #C86142). Monochromatic colour schemes usually include a range of tonal values and these support legibility of design elements. Colour palette illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD © Design Research Associates featuring an image from Instagram  @signebay
Paris, city of light. A gentle monochromatic palette featuring nuanced tints and shades of orange (hex #C86142). Monochromatic colour schemes usually include a range of tonal values and these support legibility of design elements. Colour palette illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD © Design Research Associates featuring an image from Instagram  @signebay

Monochromatic Colour

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Under traditional colour theory, tertiary colours arise as a result of intermixture between two secondary colours; or, one primary colour and it's contrasting colour. This diagram shows an array of tertiary colours between orange and blue; green and red; and yellow and purple. Tertiary colours include earthy hues and metallic colours like copper, rust, brass and bronze. Tertiary colour illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD © Design Research Associates, 2020.
Designed by Laura Gonzalez, Pierre Hermé and L’Occitane’s sensory experiment in Paris, 2018, features a soft colour palette inspired by Cezanne’s paintings. These tertiary colour variations between secondary colours orange and green are often referred to as the ‘Forest’ palette because of hue similarities with the colours of nature and forest landscapes. Colour palette illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD © Design Research Associates.
Luscious earthy colours tempt diners at Ristorante National, which features hues drawn from the ‘Forest’ palette. Tertiary colours  between the secondary colours: orange and green are often referred to as the Forest landscape palette because of similarities with the colours of nature and forest landscapes. Colour palette illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD © Design Research Associates. Image of Ristorante National, Hotel National des Arts et Metiers, Paris, 2017, designed by Raphael Navot.

Tertiary Colour • Landscape palettes

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Chroma Reduction • Hues that are chroma reduced with grey create a subtle ‘Shadow’ palette and these often have a calm, subdued feel if tonal values are kept at a similar level. Chroma reduction occurs when the intensity or purity of a hue is reduced by adding white (tints), another hue (contrasting hue), black or grey. Colour illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD © Design Research Associates.
Love these colours! Purple Chroma Reduction colour palette with grey and tinted caramel brown. Hues reduced with grey create a subtle ‘Shadow’ palette and these often have a calm, subdued feel, depending on contrast levels. Colour reduction is when the intensity or purity of a hue is reduced by adding white (tints), another hue (contrasting hue), black or grey. Chroma reduction illustration by Zena O’Connor.
Hues reduced with grey create a subtle ‘Shadow’ palette and these often have a calm, subdued feel, depending on contrast levels. Colour reduction is when the intensity or purity of a hue is reduced by adding white (tints), another hue (contrasting hue), black or grey. Image credit: Chroma reduction illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD using an image from @11solutions © Design Research Associates.

Chroma Reduction • Shadow Palettes

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Chroma Reduction • Tints - Hues chroma reduced with white create a subtle pastel palette and these often have a calm, soft ambience. Tints represent  a high key, minor tonal chord, where all hues are light in tonal value. Colour reduction occurs when the intensity or purity of a hue is reduced by adding white (tints), another hue (contrasting hue), black or grey. This Chroma Reduction palette features hues reduced with white. Illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD © Design Research Associates.
Tinted, multi-coloured houses at Fenwick Island, Delaware. Colour palette by Zena O’Connor.
Soft colour combination. The interiors of this London hotel, designed by New York firm Grzywinski + Pons, are intended to bridge the gap between home and hotel stay.  The firm used a palette of muted and pastel colours for each of the 168 rooms in the Leman Locke hotel, located in the East London area of Aldgate. Colour palette illustration by Zena O’Connor. Image credit: Design Milk

Chroma Reduction • Tints • Soft Colour

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Colour Discords occur when the 'natural' (that is, ubiquitous and familiar) tonal value of colour is reversed. In this example, orange is lighter in tonal value than blue but the blue has been tinted to a lighter variation than orange. Colour Discords represent atypical, unfamiliar colour combinations aimed at creating new and unusual colour schemes. Colour Discord illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD © Design Research Associates.
Colour Discords occur when the 'natural' (that is, ubiquitous and familiar) tonal value of colour is reversed. In this example, orange is lighter in tonal value than blue but the blue has been tinted to a lighter variation than orange. Colour Discords represent atypical, unfamiliar colour combinations aimed at creating new and unusual colour schemes. Colour Discord illustration featuring Clarion Hotel, Norway by KAP Architects, 2015, by Zena O’Connor, PhD © Design Research Associates.
Colour Discords occur when the 'natural' (that is, ubiquitous and familiar) tonal value of colour is reversed. In this example, yellow-orange is lighter in tonal value than red but the red has been tinted to a lighter variation than yellow-orange. Colour Discords represent atypical, unfamiliar colour combinations aimed at creating new and unusual colour schemes. Colour Discord illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD © Design Research Associates.

Colour Discords

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The new Alchemist store, Miami, designed by Rene Gonzalez Architects, 2018. The studio worked with industrial designer Germans Ermičs to create a gradient of orange and blue for the cash desk. The structure, made of mirrored glass, is wrapped in panels that feature a colour gradient of dark orange and blue. Image credit; frameweb.com Colour gradient palette illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD.
Colour gradations/ombre features in the interior design of this room at the Ampersand Hotel, London. Image credit: Ampersand Hotel. Colour gradation illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD.

Colour Gradations

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Polychromy colour schemes feature multiple hues and may feature high chroma and/or tinted hues. It is a colour strategy that enlivens and brings variety but may be visually complex. To enhance visual cohesion among a group of disparate hues, aim for a degree of similarity in tonal value and saturation level. Colour illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD © Design Research Associates.
Missoni textiles and slightly tinted, high chroma colours feature throughout Hotel Missoni, Kuwait. Designed by Graven, Hotel Missoni is a visual feast of polychromy and pattern. Colour palette by Zena O’Connor using an image from Graven, 2016.
Polychromy features in this unique interior. A combination of saturated, muted and slightly greyed colours create an interior that works with new as well as traditional design details. Colour palette illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD © Design Research Associates. Image credit: Mike Kelley. Image credit: Yellowtrace.

Polychromy

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High chroma, full saturation colour schemes attract attention and can entice or repel, depending on preference. Immersive, high chroma interior colour schemes have the capacity to redefine a space and create an instant, transformative impression. Colour illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD © Design Research Associates.
High chroma colour scheme featuring orange/pink that contrasts beautifully with the azure blue sea in Waterfront Nikis apartment, Thessaloniki, designed by architect Stamatios Giannikis. In the apartment, azure blue is used to reflect the Mediterranean Sea and flamingo orange/pink is used as a contrast to enhance the colour of the Sea. Pastel green is used in the kitchen. Image credit: Dezeen.
High chroma colour scheme featuring orange/pink and azure blue in Waterfront Nikis apartment, Thessaloniki, designed by architect Stamatios Giannikis. Azure blue is used to reflect the Mediterranean Sea and flamingo orange/pink is used as a contrast to enhance the colour of the Sea. Pastel green is used in the kitchen. Image credit: Dezeen.

Saturated & Immersive Colour

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Darks + Brights colour schemes feature a low key, major tonal chord - predominantly dark tone hues offset with hues that are lighter and which appear brighter against the dark hues. Darks + Brights colour palette illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD.
Saturated pink looks stunning in this achromatic interior! Saturated colour tends to ‘pop’ against a background of dark or achromatic hues. One of Itten’s seven types of contrast was Contrast of Extension - evident here with a small proportion of saturated colour against a larger proportion of achromatic hues. Colour palette by Zena O’Connor, PhD using an image from Design Milk.
Doesn’t this colour scheme look gorgeous! Saturated colour tends to ‘pop’ against a background of dark hues. The William Hotel, a 33-room hotel in NYC. A collaboration between In Situ Design (interior architecture and design), William Engel (paintings), and Lilian B Interiors. Colour palette by Zena O’Connor, PhD using an image from Design Milk.

Darks + Brights Colour Strategy

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Achromatic + Red features in this interior colour design. Colour palette illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD, featuring an image from Petra Jiráková.
Love the bright red Nagasaki stool in this muted, monochromatic kitchen! Muted monochromatic and/or achromatic colour schemes are the perfect background for pops of saturated colour. Colour palette illustration by Zena O’Connor using an image by @gubiofficial

Achromatic + Colour

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Achromatic all-white bedroom. While this interior design has aesthetic values, the all-white colour scheme and potential for glare from the window has some downsides. This interior may be difficult to 'read' from an environmental visual literacy perspective for older people and those with diminishing visual capacity. Colour illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD.
Achromatic all-white office interior. While this interior design has aesthetic values, the all-white colour scheme has some downsides. This interior may be difficult to 'read' from an environmental visual literacy perspective for older people and those with diminishing visual capacity. Colour illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD.

Achromatic

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Warm and Cool Colours are one of seven types of contrast identified by Itten (1961). Colours categorised as warm are those associated with imagery that features fire, warm climates and hot/desert geographic locations. Cool colours include hues associated with imagery that features snow, ice, cold climates and wintery geographic locations. Colour illustration Zena O’Connor, PhD, © Design Research Associates.
The Clarion Hotel features Warm/Cool colour contrast - one of seven types of contrast identified by Itten (1961). Colours categorised as warm are those associated with imagery that features fire, warm climates and hot/desert geographic locations. Cool colours include hues associated with imagery that features snow, ice, cold climates and wintery geographic locations. Warm/Cool colour contrast creates focus and adds vibrancy. Colour illustration Zena O’Connor, PhD, © Design Research Associates.
An effective use of Warm/Cool colour contrast - one of seven types of contrast identified by Itten (1961). Colours categorised as warm feature in imagery that features fire, warm climates and hot/desert geographic locations. Cool colours include hues associated with imagery that features snow, ice, cold climates and wintery geographic locations. Warm/Cool contrast attracts attention, creates focus and adds vibrancy. Colour illustration Zena O’Connor, PhD, © Design Research Associates.

Warm • Cool Colours

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Hushed Tonalities feature muted hues that share similarity of tonal value. In interior design, Hushed Tonalities convey a sense of calmness due to the lack of strong contrasts. Colour illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD © Design Research Associates.
Hushed Tonalities feature in this colour scheme. Soft, light greys plus white partnered with light timber tones give this interior a sense of calmness due to the lack of strong contrasts. Hushed Tonalities allow light and shadow play to enhance architectural details, and heighten the impact of textures, which add visual variety and richness to this colour strategy. Colour palette illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD.
Hushed Tonalities feature in this colour scheme. Soft, light greys plus white partnered with light timber tones give this interior a sense of calmness due to the lack of strong contrasts.   Hushed Tonalities allow light and shadow play to enhance architectural details, and heighten the impact of textures, which add visual variety and richness to this colour strategy. Colour palette illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD.

Hushed Tonalities

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Biophilic design aims to increase connectivity to the natural environment and often incorporates Appleton’s (1975) concept of 'prospect and refuge'. Research indicates that we have an innate affinity with nature, which tends to have a calming, rejuvenating impact. Biophilic design features plants; natural air, light and materials; water features; and colours inspired by nature, embedded within a neutral colour scheme. Illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD © Design Research Associates.
Biophilic design features plants, natural materials and colours inspired by nature, set within an underlying neutral colour scheme. Research indicates that we have an innate affinity with nature, which can have a calming, rejuvenating impact. At 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge Park by INC Architecture & Design, the lobby’s plant wall featuring ferns and vines is a dominant feature. Colour illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD © Design Research Associates, featuring a photograph by Eric Laignel.
Biophilic design features plants, natural materials and colours inspired by nature, set within an underlying neutral colour scheme. Research indicates that we have an innate affinity with nature, which can have a calming, rejuvenating impact. Colour illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD © Design Research Associates, featuring 161 Collins Street, Melbourne, designed by Bates Smart.

Biophilic Design • Green

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Vibrating colour tends to occur with contrasting colours that are pegged at the same saturation level and tonal value. When placed side by side, the boundary area appears to vibrate. Vibrating colour illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD.
Vibrating colour occurs with two or more saturated colours that feature similar saturation levels and tonal values. Vibrating colour tends to work best in graphic design and digital design. Vibrating colour illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD.
Dominik Mersch Gallery sign in Rushcutter’s Bay, Sydney

Vibrating Colour

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The New Neutrals colour strategy features a major chord of tonal values - that is, light tones plus mid tones plus dark tonal values. Major chords add a clearly defined crispness and convey a sense of energy and vitality. New Neutrals colour illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD © Design Research Associates.
The New Neutrals colour strategy features a major chord of tonal values - that is, light tones plus mid tones plus dark tonal values. Major chords add a clearly defined crispness and convey a sense of energy and vitality. Photograph of 172 Windsor Steet, Paddington, Sydney and colour illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD © Design Research Associates.
The New Neutrals colour strategy features a major chord of tonal values - that is, light tones plus mid tones plus dark tonal values. Major chords add a clearly defined crispness and convey a sense of energy and vitality. Photograph of 172 Windsor Steet, Paddington, Sydney by Zena O’Connor, PhD © Design Research Associates.

New Neutrals

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High key, major chord tonal values feature predominantly light tones with a small proportion of dark tones. In interior design, this conveys a sense of airy spaciousness that is enlivened with contrasting darker accents.  In graphic design and web design, high key, major chord tonal values conveys freshness, hygienic cleanliness, and crisp accessibility; while strong contrast enhances legibility. Chords and keys - High Key, Major Chord illustration by Zena O’Connor, PhD. #highkey #majorchord
High key, major chord tonal values convey connotations of crisp freshness, lightness, purity, and hygienic cleanliness. As a result, this particular key/chord often features in Clinique ads and skincare ads in general. High key, major chord colour palette by Zena O’Connor, PhD.
In graphic design, high key/major chord tonal values convey connotations of crisp freshness, lightness, purity, and hygienic cleanliness. As a result, this particular key/chord often features in SK-II ads and skincare ads in general. High key, major chord colour palette by Zena O’Connor, PhD.

High key • Major chord

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