I have so much to say about color. If there is one area of design where my nerdiness shows it is here. I could talk for days about color theory, choosing colors, color trends and what colors mean. Let’s just say we would be here awhile. I’m going to focus this post on researching colors themes. We could jump straight to talking about color theory or cherry picking a few themes, but the colors you choose are critical to the success of your piece! We are hard wired to react to colors. Narrow your color palette to supercharge your message through research and testing.

Research Online

Take a look at the color choices on good websites to narrow down your color palette. Go outside your comfort zone and look for sites with a good reputation for design. You can start with sites that award awards for innovative web design like www.awwwards.com/.

As a long time fan of CSS Zen Garden, I have to mention them here. The premise is that they provide HTML that submitters then mark up with CSS and share. How is this useful for infographics? When you browse the links you will see how the same information can be themed many different ways.

Webcreme is a site that features the web design used on other sites. It is a great resource for spotting trends and finding inspiration. You may or may not agree that all the sites listed are great designs, but there is treasure to be found here in being able to look at so many sites so quickly.


Look at amazing infographics

You have to dig deep here. Sure there are a ton of infographics out on there web, but most of them do not stand out and are thrown together. Yours is different. Carefully crafted. So look at other infographics that were created with the same mindset. Here are a few good places to start:

  • www.informationisbeautifulawards.com – There are jaw dropping designs here with really well thought out color choices.
  • stamen.com/projects – Stamen focuses on data heavy infographics and visualizations. This makes it a great reference for seeing how color can be used to enhance data.

Do you have an existing brand? You could use the colors to grab accents, tones and tints.


Grab existing color themes with stylify.me

You can quickly grab the colors from your website or an existing piece of online collateral using stylify.me. You can then download the whole style tile if you want and open it in a tool like Illustrator or Photoshop or use a color picker to build a quick online color palette.


Offline Inspiration

  • Visit a paint or hardware store and look at the seasonal color books and chips
  • Visit a plant nursery or botanical garden and look at plant shapes and textures
  • Library! A great source for finding past trends or researching time periods. Not only can you browse the arts section, the history and sciences sections are well worth a look. Many libraries also have back issues of magazines.
  • Visit the grocery store. Take a closer look at packaging. What stands out? What doesn’t? What is compelling?
  • Go to a department store or consumer good store that has seasonal goods like Target and look at what colors and materials they are using on plates, table cloths, throw pillows and decorations. If you visit these stores regularly you will start to get a feel for mainstream trends. If you are the kind of person to do exactly the opposite, this is valuable for you too so you can get inspired about how to turn a trend on its head or use different textures or colors.


Color theme playgrounds



Pantone provides more than color chip books. They do extensive research in color theory and trends.  Pantone puts out a color trend report for each season. This is referenced by clothing buyers, consumer goods manufacturers and designers just to name a few.  This free pdf download is a great bargain. It takes a lot of guess work out of choosing colors or finding a way to add fresh accents to a site design. You do need  Pantone color swatches or a well calibrated monitor and a digital version of the Pantone color books (these are included in the color book swatch sets in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator). Ideally you will have all three. Colors on screen often do not print the way we expect. We’ll cover that in the next blog post.



One of my favorite color theme tools to use even though I have a Pantone chip book set is http://rgb.to/pantone. It is fairly accurate when converting hex/web to Panton or RGB. You can also navigate at the top to choose to convert from RGB to HTML color names. It will also automatically detect and convert your color format that you type or paste into the window, which is pretty cool.


Adobe Color CC

The Adobe Color CC tool is fun to dive into. You can start by either uploading a photo or by dragging the nodes on the color wheel around until you find something that interests you. There is a drop down on the left for color rules [[This should be a blog posts]] such as Analogous, Monochromatic, Triad, Complementary, Compound and Shades.  Knowing a bit about color theory will help you make the most use of those tools.

If you scroll down the page a little, in the footer you will be able to click links to see other themes people have created. You can edit/copy those themes and appreciate them.

A great resource for seeing what other people are creating, what is popular, and to make more complex themes with tones and tints.



On the next post we will look at three more color palette tools and pit them against each other in the Design Arena of Destruction(™). Which one will win the hearts of designers other creators? Stay tuned. We will also take the “theory” out of color theory with everyday tips on using color in print and on screen.


What are you struggling with when it comes time to pick a color theme?