Communicating with Colour

This year I hinted for a Pantone Colour guide for my birthday and I was thrilled to receive this set of colour swatches. The Pantone Matching System (PMS) was invented in the 1960s to assign a number to every colour. It’s not an essential tool for a presentation designer, but it’s wonderful for replicating a colour, getting inspiration for a project and getting the expected result when you have something printed.

In terms of PowerPoint presentations, if you want to replicate a colour that you’ve seen on a poster or magazine, the colour can be identified by holding the fanned out colour swatches next to it and identifying the closest match. The set of colour swatches I have contains the corresponding RGB (Red/Green/Blue) code printed beneath each colour. The RGB code can then be entered into the PowerPoint text or autoshape settings to achieve a match.

Colour choice is an important component of any presentation. It’s full of symbolism, can generate emotions and provides another useful way to reinforce your message.

Here I’ve assembled a few of my tips on colour selection:

  • Consider the audience. The colours selected for an audience of young people would almost certainly differ from that of an audience of older people. It’s a fact that age affects how a viewer reacts to colour (think Wiggles). There might also be cultural considerations to take into account if designing a presentation for a CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse) community.
  • Choose colours that mesh well with your content and help to enhance the meaning of your presentation. For example hot pink might not be the best choice when designing a presentation with an environmental theme.
  • Experiment with the saturation of colours to achieve different effects.  Bold saturated colours are used when it’s important to attract attention. The best example of this is road signs. Bold colours also look great when used minimally or on top of a black & white image. Desaturated colours have a more calming and professional look.
  • Consider competitors’ colour schemes and the colours associated with the industry. Do you want to look the same or different?
  • Function comes before form. No matter how gorgeous the colour combination is…if you can’t read the text or understand the message than it’s got to go.
  • Learn to love the eyedropper tool in Powerpoint. It helps to create colour schemes from images within the presentation.
  • Once you’ve decided on a colour scheme, be consistent with it throughout the presentation. It will create a cohesive and professional look.

Do you have any of your own colour tips to add?

5 thoughts on “Communicating with Colour

  1. […] and “Handouts.”  I love the blog posts she has already released including “Communicating with Color,” “How Many Slides?” and her Slideshare deck “Wild […]

  2. Good points here, Charmaine, especially about needing to be readable and about lower saturation looking more professional.

    I’d say failing on those 2 points are the commonest “colour clangers” that presenters make. (I vividly remember seeing a deck once where the background colour projected on the wall was bright green, like lime cordial. In fact I think it’s permanently etched on my retinas!)

    As I’ve said before, my own literacy on graphic design topics, like colour use, is pretty low. So I’ve sometimes used highly saturated colours (for shapes etc) because I didn’t know any better.

    A while back I found this great video that taught me something useful about colours. I really like how it’s so practical, even for the vast majority of presenters who, like me, have no (or almost no) design sense.

    • I don’t have a formal design background but I find that inspiration is everywhere. I often take pics on my phone camera when I’m out and about of interesting or fun colour combinations in advertising or on signs and I later try to reproduce these in my slides. I’d love to check the video out but unfortunately the link doesn’t work!

  3. Hmmm. Sorry the link didn’t work. It does for me (in IE and Firefox), so I wonder if it’s because you’re the author of this page? Maybe try logging out of WordPress and see if that helps.

    Recently I came across a nifty little ebook on colours with lots of palettes, by Nadine Hanafi:

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