Why color pickers and palettes are bad for you


Color is one complicating element that is very difficult to get correct when designing. While scouring the web in search for methods to learn select colors for my designs, I inevitably find many articles about picking colors with tools such as Adobe Kuler, palette galleries like COLOURlovers.

While all these are great methods, they ironically may hinder our learning and workflow much more than they help…

Let me say in advance that using the methods mentioned above are great ways of finding colors and I do not mean to discredit them with this article. What I am trying to do instead is to provide another point of view to this subject.

The problems with using these methods

There are 3 main problems when using the above mentioned methods when choosing colors for our designs.

1. They don’t focus on sending our message across

I am deeply influenced by Sacha Greif when he mentioned that picking colors is not really about colors. It is about communication.

In order to understand why they don’t focus on what we want to communicate in our designs, consider how these tools come up with color combinations.

Color Pickers – Color pickers like adobe kuler borrow color theory concepts while suggesting color combinations. While color theory is valid, colors derived from these tools are ultimately derived from mathematical formulas and thus, may not suit out design well.

Color Palette Galleries – Color palette galleries provides us with curated color palettes. Although these palettes look beautiful, they are not created with message we want to put across. How will these colors then communicate our messages across?

Why would it make sense to use a total stranger’s color palette? These colors might look great, but do they have anything to do with your product and message? Sacha Greif

Probably the most important thing in a design is to make sure the audience gets the intended message. Colors play a very big part in it and it simply doesn’t make sense to do up a design without considering the message and the audience.

2. You stop learning and improving

We tend to get lazy easy, and the number of choices and ease of selecing a palette with these tools makes even easier for us.

The problem of having it this easy, is that we stop improving.

Consider this scenario.

You either start browsing online for a color palette or use a color picker tool to easily get a palette for your design. You then proceed to try to make your design with work with it.

At first it seems great.

After a while, it doesn’t seem to work as well as you might have expected.

You go back to browsing color palettes or try to get another palette out of the color picker you used.

This is what I used to do. Whenever I do so, I noticed that I stopped thinking.

Without thinking, I tried to find a solution to my problems by searching online, hoping that I can come across a miraculous color palette that is perfect for what I am trying to convey.

Unfortunately, there is no perfect solution. Color decisions are always subjective. If you are not able to answer to yourself why you chose a certain color, you might have to rethink about your decision.

One can only build up his experiences with a color by experimenting with different choices, by analyzing how they feel when paired together with other colors. While using color palettes created by others I stopped thinking and analyzing. I effectively stop learning during these moments.

3. You make slower and worse decisions

The number of choices you are exposed to with these tools are enormous.

As designers, we understand the effect of giving people too many choices. The more choices given, the more confused people will be. They make slower decisions. The worse part is that they make decisions that are worse off. Sometimes, they end up not choosing at all.

We end up walking away, or decide not to choose because it’s too hard to figure out what’s best. Sheena Iyengar

We know this, yet we are sabotaging ourselves by giving ourselves too many choices.

What you can do instead

When it comes down to colors, experience is all that matters. Rather than depending on external tools to create colors for our designs, lets build our own palettes.

Only by doing so, we are forced to weigh the consequences of selecting each color. **The labour we put into the choosing process allows us to understand and use them better as we improve. **

I wrote this post not intending to say that I’m an expert with colors, but as a reminder to myself that I still have much more to learn. I generally find myself jumping straight into using other people’s color palettes and I found myself repeating the whole process without learning deeply about colors. I think a change in processes will do me good.

How have you been selecting colors for your designs? Have you been using color pickers or palettes? How do they affect your decisions? I’ll love to hear what you think about choosing colors, and how you learnt to make your choices.

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