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Color for Designers: Exploration, Theory, & Application

Lesson 7 of 20

Interaction of Color Practice - Part 1


Color for Designers: Exploration, Theory, & Application

Lesson 7 of 20

Interaction of Color Practice - Part 1


Lesson Info

Interaction of Color Practice - Part 1

and then we have beautiful colors and it's just so this, by the way, thats app has been out for a few years and there's a new version that was released about a year ago in this corresponds to his book. And, um, what it allows you to do is basically take his experiments and make your own versions. And you can look at his experiments for reference, but then make your own, which is kind of cool. So I'm just gonna bring up a few that I worked on last night. Um, so, uh, if you can, if you concede at the top, it says the color has many faces and that's sort of what he's talking about, and now he'll show you his version, which you're going to see in the book. And the idea is to use a single color, one color against two different fields and just to see how different it is, just as a proof. I did a few of these, and that's kind of what you're doing right now, except you're doing it with one color. So the next thing for you to Dio is to try to do it with two different grounds. Now it's a very di...

fferent cause. You're looking for something in the middle that's just gonna look dramatically different on these two different grounds. So why don't you go ahead and try that? Christine, if you want to work on the up Yeah. There you go. You can sit in my position here and do you know how to do this? So you this is your color palette. So you tap that thing in the corner, and that brings it up, and then he can basically dragged these colors out. And you have these little things out here, and if you want that color, go away top on the X. Yeah, And when you're ready to apply it to a field, you just basically drag it over like this, and it'll go into the background and the same thing with the foreground dragon in the foreground. It will go in there like that, and it fills both at the same time, because that's what you're trying to do. Okay? And if you want it to go away, you double click, and then you'll be able to see the whole thing. All right? And double click back and you can always undo things are just going to this. Okay, Okay. Okay. Thanks. Have fun. So try a different color in the center. It doesn't really even matter. You're not trying to reciprocate this time. You're just trying to find colors Look dramatically different on those grounds here. We're going for Matt. Maximum effective difference. So focus your attention on the distinctions of these colors. You're looking for one color that looks dramatically different on the grounds and also feel free to change the grounds. Right? Always remember that with these Albers things, you have total control over the inside colors and the outside colors, and everything is in flux constantly. When you get into these different color backgrounds still continue to think about the subtraction concept. Now you're subtracting late in dark, but you're also subtracting the hue that's a little bit trickier. A little bit more complex. What does it mean to subtract yellow from a color? When you subtract yellow from green, you're taking the yellow out, making it look cooler. Yeah, making it look more blue when you subtract purple from that same green, it's also a matter of light. And dark was the purple, but darker than the yellow purple is Ah, harder is harder to imagine what you're subtracting from green. But essentially, you're taking out the purple, probably shifting and more toward yellow. And if you look at this, you kind of get that sense, right? So this definite looks starts yellow lighter. It's a little bit of yellow. Er, yeah, science to this in that using your color that complements their contrast or isn't near it on the color wheel is gonna have a different effect. Or is it really wouldn't? Actually, when we get to using complementary grounds, you're kind of using complementary grounds, right? So maybe the next step for you is to try to imagine what the middle color is between yellow and purple. So a mixture color? Yeah, um, if you try to remember back to with the complementary mixtures, so look for a chromatic gray that's either purple or yellow and see what happens when you put those on top. So there was she some pretty dramatic effects happening then, looking very different. What color would you say that you chose there in the center? Well, I was trying to think what's in between red and blue, so I try to go for a kind of a purplish in, and then, uh, this one seems to have a little more slightly more saturation than this one. And so I also tried to line that up. I went through a couple where there were it was too light or too dark, and so it was almost kind of trying to get those contrasts that you talked about in line. So maybe that's everyone. Now shift toward, um, two complementary background colors so purple and yellow, red and green, uh, orange and blue. And when you're using these background colors, just a za cute. Based on my experience, try different levels of saturation, one that's very, very vivid and one that's not so vivid, maybe dull, so vivid and dull backgrounds. And then that trying to find that middle color in that mixture color. Now think back to Britain mixture. Color is going to be some kind of ah, a bit of a neutral with some chromatic value, so perhaps a gray. It has a little like in this case, if it's yellow and purple, either a little yellow in it or a little purple in it and see what happens, so try making this local this green a little bit darker and see what happens. Actually, what you can do is just click on this Onda move in this direction like that. So now it looks almost the same, right? And as we move through, this is a great way to just find variances just quickly. Kind of move through. It's like changing the background very quickly. Definitely, very different. Um, let's try moving onto two compliments. So red and green, uh, yellow and purple or blue and orange, and then try to look for a middle color. That is a mixture color. So a chromatic gray of some kind. Put that down and see what happens. So, what do you think? Yeah, I think, uh, the squinting definitely helped when I squint it. Definitely. It does seem like these. These were different. This one seems a lot brighter than this one. Definitely. So the light and dark is definitely the latent darkest of working. What about the reciprocation? In terms of the colors? The Hughes? Uh, yeah, this one. It's very slight, but yeah, it looks like this one is sucking the the yellow out of the gray square attracted. And so, Yeah. And then vice person for here. Yeah, and this is starting to look like that, but this is not starting to look like that. So keep looking for a middle color where you get that reciprocation happening. So this definitely looks like that. It's getting closer. That's tougher part. Yeah. Try it a slightly darker green in the background and see what happens. And we might have to lighten this up a little bit. I don't know if we're ever gonna reach that pink, though. That's tried, haven't you, Price? You're actually an app designer. Interactions. Yeah. So how if you use color in in that sense, you discover that, you know, using paper except for is very different to using digital colors. Uh, it is different, obviously, and working with your hands. But it's similar in that you do want to think about how the colors are going together. What's the hero color that you kind of base everything around. And then what? Complementary colors or other kinds of colors? Do you want to go with it? Yeah. This is actually really good Already. You did it. So I'm gonna move this toe white and just see what it looks like. It's better. Do you usually have a preference? Like when give these like white or black or it doesn't know me. It definitely makes a difference. You have to kind of try it on both.

Class Description


  • Effectively select and apply color to enhance your design projects
  • Utilize color theory language to justify your design decisions
  • Expand beyond preconceptions and your comfort zone in working with color


Our response to color comes from the place in our brain where trust, loyalty, behavior, and decision occur – every successful project relies on a designer making smart choices about color.

In Color for Designers: Exploration, Theory, & Application, Richard Mehl will give you a foundational understanding of color theory principles and demonstrate how to apply them. Richard has studied alongside design legends Paul Rand, Bradbury Thompson and Herbert Matter; in this class he’ll share insights gleaned from 12 years of teaching and writing about color in design.

Richard takes an accessible approach to the serious study of color theory for designers. You’ll be exposed to a relevant series of ideas and skills by exploring a range of analog and digital projects.

  • Color terminology and meaning
  • How to view color in context
  • Contrast grids and color illusion
  • Tips for creating a harmonious color palette

In Color for Designers: Exploration, Theory, & Application you’ll develop a new awareness and sensitivity to color that will bolster your confidence in your personal and professional design work.


This class is for designers and color aficionados of all levels working across various media, ranging from floral design to user experience design. It is also an appropriate refresher in color theory for experienced designers.


Richard Mehl has taught two-dimensional design, color theory and typography at the School of Visual Arts for over 12 years. His students have gone on to become successful, award-winning designers and art directors for prestigious design studios, including Bloomberg, New York Magazine, Pentagram, The Guardian, The New York Times and Sagmeister & Walsh. Mehl received an MFA in graphic design from Yale School of Art, where he studied with graphic design legends Paul Rand, Bradbury Thompson and Herbert Matter, design educators Alvin Eisenman and Inge Druckrey, type designer Matthew Carter, and information design expert Edward Tufte. He is the author of Playing with Color: 50 Graphic Experiments for Exploring Color Design Principles (©2013 Rockport Publishers). Mehl lives with his family – wife Alicia and Sheldon the Pug – and carries on a graphic design practice in Chelsea, New York.


  1. Why Study Color?

    Most designers have an intuitive understanding of color drawing from cultural associations, experimentation, and experience; why study color specifically when intuition alone can guide your color choices? Why is color the most relative medium in art and what consequences does this have for design? What is the role of trial and error in working with color? Richard addresses the implications of studying basic color theory.

  2. Natural Awareness of Color & Playing

    We all associate certain colors with specific ideas or objects; this is the foundation of color symbolism. How do you move beyond day-to-day awareness and a basic understanding of what looks “good” together? How do you develop a well-trained “eye” for color? Richard introduces the concept of learning through play and exploring geometric composition.

  3. Colors and Their Relationships

    How did we arrive at the modern day color wheel? Richard reviews the evolution of traditional color theory, from cave paintings to Sir Isaac Newton to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Expand your vocabulary beyond primary colors and secondary colors, as Richard touches on concepts he will expand upon in following lessons.

  4. Color Contrast of the Color Wheel

    What types of contrast can we explore through color? Richard introduces a color grid activity and discusses the properties of different colors. He demonstrates how to create color harmony through the use of “color chords” and pairing complementary and split complementary colors.

  5. Hands On Color Grids

    Watch as live students experiment, assembling their color grids highlighting various contrasts. Richard clarifies common confusions and dives deeper into color theory. How do you use relationships of proportion to create balance, stability, and order in your work? Why do we see certain color combinations in branding? How are designers like hunters and farmers?

  6. Color Illusion in Practice

    Richard introduces the concept of color illusion, demonstrating how colors interact based on their surroundings. How can you trick the eye? What consideration should you give to a background when working with different hues?

  7. Interaction of Color Practice - Part 1

    How do you make one color look like two? Join Richard’s students in manipulating the eye and experimenting with color subtraction. Richard gives tips for working with complementary colors.

  8. Interaction of Color Practice - Part 2

    How do you make two different colors look alike? Learn how to guide your audience’s perception with informed color choices. Richard discusses the implications of color illusion in graphic design.

  9. Illusion of Transparency

    Learn how to create the illusion of color transparency through the manipulation of analogous colors. Practice playing with warm colors and cool colors in a trial and error process to enhance your color awareness.

  10. Hands On Free Study Experiment

    Apply your color theory learnings thus far in a free study experiment, combining color concepts and focussing on the process of exploration. Richard’s students in the CreativeLive studio share how color theory applies to their roles and design experiences.

  11. Color in Action: Designer Pablo Delcan

    Meet Pablo Delcan, independent graphic design studio owner, and learn how he has applied color theory knowledge to his work across various media, including book covers, illustrations, and animations. Pablo shares his approach and thought process behind design decisions, as well as advice on designing for clients.

  1. Color in Design: Tangrams

    Less is more: the simplicity of tangrams offer endless exploration of color and its expressions. Richard shares examples of tangram compositions exploring stability, balance, movement, symbolism, and visual contrast.

  2. Hands On: Tangrams

    Join Richard’s live students and explore with tangrams; work to create multiple contrasts and experiment with a limited color scheme. Richard discusses the figure and ground relationship and gives advice on working with tints and shades. He clarifies the vocabulary of tertiary colors: is it blue-green or green-blue?

  3. Hands On: Leaf Composition

    Explore color relationships with organic shapes in this lesson, as Richard leads you in an activity creating compositions with pressed leaves. Students explore creating visual hierarchy with high contrast and Richard gives tips for working with leaves.

  4. Expression of Color & Opposites - Part 1

    How can you use form and color to express ideas? In this lesson, Richard introduces the next activity: expressing opposing concepts as a diptych, or two compositions working as one. Bring theory to practice and explore the true expressive power of color.

  5. Expression of Color & Opposites - Part 2

    Part of developing a trained “eye” for color is repeated play - creating without the pressure of a message or deadline. Watch as live students’ original ideas shift and they justify the decisions they’ve made while creating their diptychs. Richard shares this starting point with his work: does he start with form or color in design?

  6. Learning from the Masters

    Delve into what Matisse called “drawing with scissors” as Richard prefaces the next activity exploring expressions of color. Richard shares his students’ past work investigating the relationship between figure and ground with paper cut-outs. How do you work with a limited or monochromatic color scheme? What is the distinction between graphic design and advertising?

  7. Hands On: Cut Paper Illusion

    Watch as Richard’s students work in real-time applying color theory concepts, their pieces evolving with feedback. Richard gives invaluable tips for sourcing ideas, best practices, working with cliches, and moving beyond predictable compositions.

  8. Everyday Found Color 2

    In this lesson, Richard’s live class dives into a collaborative color wheel piece. Where can we find color in everyday objects and even in what we eat? Richard pushes you to embrace and think beyond traditional color associations. He introduces the model of the “color sphere” to expand our understanding of hues, tints, and shades, and discusses color systems, additive color, and subtractive color.

  9. Colors in Nature with Rachel Gregg

    Look at floral design in a completely new way, as Richard invites Rachel Gregg, floral designer and CreativeLive team member to share how color theory concepts apply to creating floral arrangements. Rachel shares designs based on palettes and her experience designing for varied clientele. Richard closes the session with takeaways.



The course was great. Richard was a very good teacher, appreciating the students’ work and helping them expand and improve on it. I learned from that alone. I feel more confident in choosing colors, and hope to bring a greater sense of fun to my design work. Thanks again.


How wonderful to have such an experienced, thoughtful teacher, who takes educating others so seriously. The depth and breadth of his teaching skill is matched by his knowledge of the subject. I studied art in school, own some of the color books he recommends, and learned far more than I thought possible. And he does it all in such a kind, affirming, supportive way. What a calm guide. How lucky are we to have access to a class with him!

Joe Loffredo

I was concerned that I wouldn't like watching everyone work, but I found that it was the best part! It allowed you to see Richard's lessons being put into action by the various students, each of which is talented in their own right. And Richard is great. Knowledgeable, intelligent, and supportive, he's got the attributes a great teacher should have. I'm a painter, not a designer, but the class really helped me a lot. When I go back to the canvas, it will be with a much deeper understanding of color, and how colors interact with each other.