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The Five Basic Color Attributes

Fundamentals for Creating Content that Works!

Color has a strong influence on how human beings interpret information. It affects meaning, legibility, accessibility, and even production. There are five basic color attributes every content professional can use to make more effective color decisions.

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Tina M. Kister
November 2, 2021

Color

The Basic Design Elements

As with any skill or discipline, the first step to mastery is understanding the basics.

Color is also one of the most difficult design elements to work with, particularly when it comes to content. Understanding the basic attributes of color allows us to make design decisions that are specific and well-reasoned, rather than based simply on intuition and trial-and-error.

The Five Basic Color Attributes

In Science-Based Content Design, there are three basic design elements: shape, color, and position. These three elements are the building blocks of both visual perception and visual design. Because content is primarily a visual medium, the basic design elements are also the building blocks of most content.

Each of the basic design elements has attributes that we, as content professionals, use to direct our users’ attention, optimize the amount of time and effort required to process information, and reinforce meaning. Attributes are the specific characteristics, or properties, that we can adjust to achieve different effects and elicit specific responses.

Color is also one of the most difficult elements to work with, particularly when it comes to content. Color can be used to direct attention, optimize the amount of time and effort required to process information, and reinforce meaning.

1

Hue

Hue refers to color. The term is used to differentiate one color from another and to differentiate pure colors from altered colors, such as tints. The perception of different hues is determined by the dominant wavelength of light within the visible spectrum.

The seven basic visible hues are:

  • Red
  • Orange
  • Yellow
  • Green
  • Blue
  • Indigo
  • Violet
hues

2

Value

Value refers to whether a hue is light or dark, and changing a color’s value affects its intensity.

There are specific attributes related to value, including:

  • Tint – White added to a color
  • Shade – Black added to a color
value, tints, and shades

3

Intensity

Intensity (or saturation) refers to whether a color is pure or diluted. Changing a color’s intensity affects its value.

There are specific attributes related to intensity, including:

  • Tone – Gray added to a color
  • Chroma – A colors complement (opposite) added to a color
color intensity

4

Temperature

Temperature describes whether a hue conveys warmth or coolness. 

There are two main temperatures:

  • Warm – Reds, yellows, and oranges
  • Cool – Blues, greens, and purples
color temperature

5

Relationship

Relationship describes a hue’s position in relation to other colors on the traditional color wheel. Color relationships have important effects on both physiological perception and psychological interpretation.

There are several types of color relationships, including:

  • Complementary – Two colors opposite one another on the color wheel
  • Analogous – Two or more colors adjacent to one another on the color wheel
  • Triadic – Three colors spaced equally around the color wheel
  • Tetradic – Four colors spaced equally around the color wheel
  • Monochromatic – Any number of variations of a single color based on value and intensity
color relationships

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