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FAST CLASS: Color for Designers: Exploration, Theory, and Application

Lesson 7 of 10

Color in Design: Tangrams

Richard Mehl

FAST CLASS: Color for Designers: Exploration, Theory, and Application

Richard Mehl

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Lesson Info

7. Color in Design: Tangrams


  Class Trailer
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1 Class Introduction Duration:06:29
5 Color Illusion in Practice Duration:03:14
6 Illusion of Transparency Duration:04:34
7 Color in Design: Tangrams Duration:07:34
9 Learning from the Masters Duration:05:02
10 Everyday Found Color Duration:04:12

Lesson Info

Color in Design: Tangrams

So today we're going to be working with some interesting concepts. Um 10 g. We're starting off with this and uh some of you may have worked with 10 g before those of you who are at home, maybe you have a tan graham uh laying around Someplace kids tend to work with them a lot. My first experience with nanograms was not when I was a kid, I was 26, I was in graduate school and I was introduced to this by a guy I mentioned before Paul Rand. It was one of my teachers and it's kind of an interesting idea. Tan graham is, it's a geometric form And it starts with a square and it's divided into seven pieces, five Triangles, a diamond shape in a parallelogram. And the idea is to move these shapes around and to create designs using these shapes. It's a wonderful way to explore geometry, geometric forms and also to think about compositional concepts like figure ground, which is really the idea that when you design something two dimensionally, that you're thinking not just of the shapes themselves, ...

the figures, but also the spaces between the shapes and the spaces around the shapes. So when typography, we refer to this as form and counter form in drawing, we call it figure ground in composition. We might call it positive and negative space. There are many different names for this. The important thing is that we're considering all aspects of a composition from corner to corner, side to side, top to bottom edge to edge. And so you can kind of see that from the diagram here, how a tan graham is constructed. It's a square divided into these pieces and the points that are very critical are the corners obviously. But also these halfway points here and here and here. This is halfway between this, this is halfway between that, this is halfway halfway. So it's very very mathematical, but very easy mathematical. Um And totally based on geometry. Now the tan graham is great because it offers us only these seven shapes but also the shapes in between the figure in the ground. So it's kind of limited. You can't use anymore, you can't use any less. The rules basically are the shapes don't overlap. It's okay to maybe bleed the shapes outside but keep the shapes whole so we recognize them. Mhm. Another expression of stability. But that means that stability doesn't necessarily mean locked to the edges or perfectly horizontal and vertical. So you can have an angled composition like this where you might have a point here in a point down here that locks to the edge of the composition but still expresses this idea of structure, expressions of movement. This is one of the most interesting things. How can a static composition express movement. We can do that typically with an expression of movement. There's some part of the composition that is very structural. Yeah. And then other parts where the pieces seem to be moving or flowing away. So if you have a part of the composition that feels very tight structured to the edge, Other elements that are not structured to the edge. There's a contrast. It's a compositional contrast. It's a great expression of movement. So when we talk about symbolic expression were really thinking about an abstraction of something that we can recognize. You can do this on the computer, Christine is going to be working on the computer. And again, those of you at home, you can work with cut paper, you can work with the computer. Cut paper take a little bit longer says you have to cut out all the pieces we've pre done that prefinished out. So we have all these pieces cut out here on the table and the students will be working with those in class. You'll be doing this on the computer and actually when you're working on the computer feel free to apply some background effects. It doesn't have to be a solid form contrast of light and dark and finally work hard to make the composition looks simple. All right, Okay. Um keep in mind and especially the audience at home. If you want to Google 10 g and do an image search, you'll see lots and lots of these things. People have been making 10 g forever. I think the history of the tang graham goes back perhaps several 1000 years, it's another chinese invention but you can also go to a toy store and buy these things made out of wood. Very interesting. So I think we can get started, we're just starting with a board and pushing things to the side for now we have all these pre cut shapes. Great. We have the overhead camera. Fantastic. Mhm. Yeah, so it looks like each one of these little groupings is the seven shapes. Oh so there you see the seven shapes, a square, a parallelogram too small triangles, a middle size strangle and then two large triangles. And the idea here is to put these shapes together in ways that express stability movement or are some kind of an abstraction. So you can choose which one of those three ideas you can you want to work with. And I'm just going to start pushing these around actually, since it's yellow, I might start with a black. Give me a little bit more contrast. You see how much contrast here is with the yellow against the black and if I'm thinking about structure, maybe I'll start by locking one of these shapes to the edge. I began to think about the spaces in between the shapes and again, I want to emphasize the idea of play. I don't know what this is going to be. I'm just starting out and I'm improvising as I go now, I've made not a million of these things but many. So I might have a slight advantage. Look at that, it's kind of sometimes you get these moments of serendipity and if you see that you definitely want to go with it, the shapes can touch or not touch okay. But like that kind of a relationship where there's an alignment of an angle is kind of interesting. I have this one other piece, but maybe I'll try a different color just to see what happens. And I'm gonna go back to that small triangle. Keep in mind that you never want more than the seven shapes. Uh you always want to just work with those particular things and then think about some kind of contrast. So as soon as I put that element in there starts to change the composition, but this is a good example of stability structure. Again, kind of accidentally I have this very strong central axis that runs right up the center measured here to here. Things kind of floating off of that. Very aware of the figure and ground. The yellow forms, the red forms and the black forms and resigning all of these things. And it's a good idea to take pictures along the way. So you see how different the expression of movement is from an expression of structure.

Class Description


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Full-length class: Color for Designers: Exploration, Theory, and Application with Richard Mehl

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  • 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.