How Color Schemes Have Influenced Modern Design

Color schemes from the past are very influential for graphic design today and always will be. Having knowledge of how colors work together, why we see color, and past design usage are very important as a designer.

In order for humans to see color, light passes through the cornea, making its way to the back of the eye through the lens, bending the light and allowing us to see in color. Some people can’t see color, because they don’t have the ability to process it the same way people who do see color can.

Having knowledge about color schemes helps us as designers when it comes to using the appropriate color choices. It’s important to have knowledge of the color wheel and what each color signifies not only singularly, but as a whole when they come together as a design as well as their connotations.

Warm colors include oranges, yellows, reds, pinks, and can be described as energetic, happy, vivid, or social. Cool colors include blues, greens, purples, and can be described as cold, distant, reliable, or trustworthy. As mentioned previously, each color comes with different connotations and you may be wondering what they are. Here are a few examples:

Red represents things like strength, power, energy, love, and anger. Using the color red in graphic design is a great choice for a powerful accent and can be changeable.

Orange can create feelings of energy, happiness, and vitality. Orange is usually associated with the change of seasons. In design, orange is a great color to use for call actions because it creates a demand for attention without being as dominate as the color red.

Yellow represents things like happiness, joy, and energy. When using yellow in a design, it can encourage feelings of optimism and cheerfulness for the viewers.

Green is very prevalent in nature and is often associated with it. This color can create balancing and harmonizing effects in designs.

Violet is a color that is associated with creativity, innovation, and imagination as well. It’s considered rare to be see in nature and that is why it has been recognized and associated with being sacred.

Black is the color that does not absorb light and is often associated with darkness. Black represents self-control, self-discipline, a strong will, independence, and power.

Having knowledge of the connotations of colors will help you create a design that has the right connotations. Example:

Notice how the color of certain logos set a certain mood. If these logos were to be presented in another color, the entire mood may be changed.


Color theory comes into play with this example as blue represents moods of Trust, stability, loyalty, friendliness, courage.. And red represents energy, power, passion, determination, desire.. When learning about color schemes it becomes clear why these companies did not choose red for their logos.

Example 2:

Green represents growth, harmony, freshness, and nature. Each logo has something to do with the reflection of the colors chosen related to color theory.


The absence of these colors takes away from the overall feel and mood of the logos themselves.

Brands often use complementary color schemes to make their logos stand out, which works well. Complementary colors are opposite on the color wheel (See below) so they are used a lot when it comes to symbolism. (ex.) color association with stop lights, green meaning go, red meaning stop. Vs. connotations with denying or accepting a phone call, green meaning accept, red meaning stop. It’s important to use color schemes that flow so you can create aesthetically pleasing designs.

Aesthetically pleasing designs… What are they?

The example above is not aesthetically pleasing. If certain colors are used in the wrong way, the viewer will often times look away from the design. If color theory is used in the correct way, this in turn grabs the viewers attention and allows for them to process the message of the design and enjoy it.

These (above) are good examples of using a good color schemes and incorporating it into a design that catches the viewer’s attention as pleasing, It’s important as designer to have knowledge about color schemes that were popular in the past and how they have influenced design today.

The 1950’s

Some characteristics of the 1950’s designs included pastel colors, bright, geometric, modern, clean looks, Scandinavian, curvy shapes, and muted colors. Saul Bass was a popular designer during this time

The 1960’s

The 1960’s used a lot of earth colors, vibrant hues, and psychedelic patterns. The color schemes were used to appear as earthy yet vibrant; a reflection of the hippie movement and its focus on the environment and psychedelics.


Graphic design in the 90’s changed everything. Photoshop 1.0 was released, and this opened up an entire new world of opportunity for designers. During this time, you can see that previous muted and vibrant color schemes that are still present in today’s designs. The 90’s incorporated the psychedelic style from the 60’s that we also still see in today’s designs.

Some companies have been around for so long, are so well know, and well branded, that they no longer have the entire company name in their logo. By sticking with the same color scheme they have the ability to be recognized sometimes just by the color of their designs. Below are examples of a few companies.

We had the pleasure to interview Graphic Design Professor, Laura Chessin, who gave us great feedback. Something that she wants all Graphic Designers to know is, ““That it’s all about life: who you are, how you live, what inspires you as a living breathing human being…. not a brain on a skeleton with fingers that can type on a keyboard and eye sockets that can orient towards a screen.”

As you realize now, it’s very important as a designer to not only have knowledge of previous decades color schemes and how they’ve influenced modern design, but reasons as to why which colors go together and how to use them properly.

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