Color Harmonies in UI: In-depth Guide
Choosing the right colors for a UI design project is sometimes complex. Before building a color palette for UI, you must consider diverse technicalities and theories. Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered!
In this in-depth guide to color harmonies in UI, you’ll cover the necessary basics, get professional advice, and learn to produce UI designs with flying colors, so keep reading! 😀
The basics of color in UI
If you want to learn more about UI color schemes and color pairing properly, you must start from the beginning.
So, let’s begin with the color theory. According to the Maryville university, color theory combines colors based on the color wheel, a systematized illustration of the primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. So, color theory is all about the color wheel and established “formulas” that help you extract colors that work harmoniously together.
These “formulas” are monochromatic, analogous, complementary, triadic, split-complementary, tetradic, and square. Once we cover them, we’ll move on to how to achieve color harmonies in UI with the power of color schemes.
Monochromatic color schemes consist of one hue with different saturation and brightness. So, to create a monochromatic color scheme, pick one color or hue from the color wheel and adjust its saturation or brightness for each swatch.
Branding example: Supercharge Design
To create an analogous color scheme, use adjacent colors on the color wheel. For example, you can select cool colors like purple and blue or warm colors like yellow and orange.
Branding example: PayPal
Another excellent formula that can help you achieve color harmonies in UI is picking complementary colors. Complementary colors are on the opposing sides of the color wheel. For example, you can choose orange and blue or purple and yellow, adjust their saturations, and voilà – you have a lovely color palette!
Branding example: FedEx
Using the split-complementary formula is actually switching up the complementary color scheme. This color scheme uses two symmetrical colors on either side of its complementary color. Using this formula will give you a unique mixture of colors without the risk of being too inharmonious.
If you use the split complementary method to achieve color harmonies in UI, you’ll get combinations that include cool and warm hues, which you can easily balance.
Branding example: Fanta
A triadic color scheme derives from the split complementary color scheme. In a triadic color scheme, the colors are equally spaced on the color wheel. So, to extract these three colors, you’ll put an equilateral triangle on the color wheel and select the colors from the points.
You can adjust this vibrant triadic color palette by playing with the saturation or brightness of selected colors.
Branding example: Burger King
Another fantastic way to create color harmonies in UI is the tetradic color scheme. Similarly to the triadic scheme, the tetradic method uses equidistant colors but uses four instead of three. You can place a square on the color wheel to get a tetradic combination and pick the colors at each corner. Selecting two contrasting sets of complementary colors is also an excellent way to go!
Tetradic color schemes are fun and bold, but you must stay cautious and work to find the right balance to avoid creating an overwhelming combination.
Branding example: Slack
The square method is the final method for creating color harmonies in UI design. A square color scheme has four colors spaced evenly around the color wheel. To assemble a square color palette, choose your preferred color and recognize which colors are equidistant from that color.
It’s that simple! As a beginner designer, choosing square colors to design UI might be bold and not the safest idea. But don’t be afraid to use them.
Consider the brand’s tone of voice, learn about the psychology of colors, and work around the rationale behind choosing the square color scheme.
Branding example: Figma
Other color schemes
Now that we discussed basic formulas for creating beautiful color schemes that will achieve color harmonies in UI projects let’s talk about other color schemes you can use.
If the goal of your UI project (or the business’ tone of voice) is to be striking, choosing a bright or neon color scheme will suit you best. Neon (phosphorescent) and bright color schemes are widely used in fashion, especially by
You can get pastel color schemes by mixing a preferred color with white. Pastel colors have low to medium saturation; you can describe them as light, neutral, calming, or washed. Because of their versatility, pastel color schemes have become a trend, and almost every industry has started using them.
Another popular way to achieve color harmonies in UI designs; Earth color schemes contain a brownish hue similar to the color of the earth or soil. These color schemes can also refer to other natural colors, such as green leaves and dark clouds, and resemble sage, rust, or terracotta.
Many industries love earthy palettes because they feel warm and soothing.
Also popular, and not only because of Miss Taylor. 😀 These color schemes can contain warm and cool shades with darker saturations. Sometimes they can have a similar tone as earthy colors but express a more luxurious and mysterious feeling.
If you want to achieve color harmonies in UI with neutral colors, you’ll opt formuted shades that lack color but have underlying hues, such as beige, taupe, gray, or cream. Neutral colors don’t exist in the color wheel, but they complement primary and secondary colors very well.
This color scheme achieves a clean and minimalistic look with a feeling of calmness.
Another valid method you should familiarize yourself with if you want to know how to achieve color harmonies in UI design is the 60-30-10 color rule. Interior designers predominantly use this rule, but UI designers also find it useful.
The 60% + 30% + 10% rule is applied to achieve a perfect ratio for color balance. 60% goes for the neutral or dominant color, which you’ll use as the design’s base color. 30% is a supplementary color for medium components like carousels or cards.
Finally, the 10% goes for the accent color, which you can use for CTAs, pop-ups, and other minor but relevant interface elements that you need to highlight.
To achieve color harmonies in UI, you must learn how to structure colors.
Without structure, you’ll create a design that will overwhelm you and, most importantly, future users. A lack of knowledge of how to structure colors can lead to inconsistency, wasting your time and other valuable resources.
Here are some color guidelines to follow for UI designs:
To increase readability, avoid low-contrast neutrals for elements that require reading. Instead, use them for input fields. Input fields must look distinguishable from the rest of the UI, but not too much. So, choosing neutrals for them is a great trick for creating a seamless UI container.
If you’re designing a user interface for an established business, they will have set brand colors most of the time. So, integrating these brand colors into the UI is a great tactic.
But, work smart: include the brand colors in the functional and decorative elements of your product, such as headers, footers, menus, and similar, and you’re one step closer to achieving color harmonies in UI.
Accent colors emphasize UI elements such as progress bars, buttons, or other relevant information you need to highlight. Accent colors are bright and more saturated, which makes these elements stand out on the screen and encourage action from users.
Semantic (status) palettes:
You’ll use semantic (status) color palettes for signaling different messages, such as success, warning, or error. For example, you’ll use a specific tone of green which indicates success, blue for important information, red for error, and yellow for warning.
Selecting the proper palette for such signalization is critical to creating color harmonies in UI.
Congratulations – you have covered the basics of color in UI design!
But, there are still many imperative details you’ll have to cover to completely master the skill of creating color harmonies in UI design. If some methods and decisions still feel puzzling, or you don’t have the confidence to use new colors in your interfaces, consider enrolling in our Ultimate UI Colors Masterclass.
And before you think it – this masterclass is in no case exclusively theoretical, where you make some popcorn and unenthusiastically sit and listen. You’ll have to roll up your sleeves and learn the magic by doing!
For more information, follow us on Instagram and send us a DM or fill out our contact form. We’d be more than glad to resolve any doubts or questions!
Happy color harmonizing! 🎨
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