I'm primarily a UX/Interaction Designer, however, since I'm working for a fairly small company I'm having to overlap to graphic and visual design. I'm fine with this however I'm having a few problems.

Currently I'm building a color palette for an app and I think it works well and I've found a good balance using tools like coolors.

I'm used to backing up my design decisions with rationale to argue for my decisions within UX, but my problem is I don't have all the background knowledge to back up my decisions when it comes to picking a color palette. I'm faced with opinions from other members of the team and I have no way to argue for/against them, as such, it's difficult to arrive at a decision.

My Question:

What rationale can I call upon when proposing a color palette and how can I argue better for my decisions in this case?


4 Answers 4


Color Theory is a really vast area of expertise; I had entire classes on that subject alone when studying Creative arts and Graphic design.

To give you the short answer, there are 2 things you should learn in order to argue colors intelligently:

  • The basics of color theory
  • The psychological meanings of colors.

For the fundamentals of color theory, start with the color wheel. This is what color tools like coolors use to create color schemes, and this is what Adobe used when they introduced color schemes in their software.

Here is a basic one:

enter image description here


It shows the basic relation between complementary colors, which are 2 colors opposite on the color wheel.

There are many different possible relations between colors that make a harmonious color scheme. This one shows triads, which are 3 colors spaced evenly:

enter image description here


The other popular schemes are Analogous (adjacent colors) and Split complementary (a color, its complementary and the 2 colors analogous to that complementary color). You can purchase spinning color wheels in art supplies stores if you need to show clients.

You can find more details on the most classic schemes here.

Of course, you can stray from these principles and still have harmony. Sometimes, dis-harmony is what you're going for. It's similar to note progressions in music theory; you can come up with your own, but some have been established for valid reasons.

The other aspect to consider is the psychological meanings of colors, which is meanings and associations that we give colors, as well as the emotions that colors inspire. For example, red is hot and brings excitement and anger. Blue is cold and evoques calm. It might sound very holistic, but it is used a lot in advertising; colors are rarely chosen randomly. Crown Royal is purple and yellow because these colors are associated with royalty.

Here is a good summary of this:

enter image description here

Source (as well as more details for each colors)

So this is a very good starting point, you should definitely read more on the subject. As with any type of theory that has to do with creativity it's not set in stone. It can (and should) be argued, but those principles have been used for centuries by all the great artists.

On a final side note, while this will allow you to explain the logic behind color choices, I also recommend that you pick your battles. Sometimes, no amount of logic will make a client chance his mind if he wants weird colors that you think look ugly.

  • 4
    If you're starting with the fundamentals of color theory, it's worth pointing out that RYB are not the primary colors. Human perception, for non-colorblind people, is based around frequency responses to the three kinds of color-sensing neurons, which have peaks near what we usually call red, green, and blue.
    – MooseBoys
    Feb 27, 2018 at 8:05
  • That is right for color perception, unless you are tetrachromatic. However, in visual arts the primary colors are called primary because they cannot be obtained by mixing other colors; you get green by mixing yellow and blue. Feb 27, 2018 at 8:11
  • 5
    That's also a misconception. The primary pigment or subtractive colors are cyan, magenta, and yellow, or CMY(K). The problem is that cyan looks close to blue and magenta looks close to red, but yellow looks quite different from green, hence the (inaccurate) RYB representation of pigment primaries.
    – MooseBoys
    Feb 27, 2018 at 8:18

My question to you: Why is your color palette better (or good)?

I'm not meaning to imply that it's not. Your design may be objectively better for a number of reasons:

  • better match existing branding
  • desirable usability features (to help users distinguish important vs secondary information)
  • better contrast between colors (vs conflict; this is a concept many non-designers don't appreciate until it is explained to them)

If your colors are better, you should have these explanations prepared in advance before a meeting.

Some other advice that may make the discussion/resolution process easier:

  • Provide more than one choice: Unless I have clear specifications, I always prepare 3 different color/design schemes. That drives discussion to comparing my designs rather than people telling me how to change a single design (often with confusing or unclear ideas).
  • Ask for information beforehand: If you ask an open question like "what are some websites you like?" and "what kinds of colors do you like", you can sometimes preempt this type of bike shedding.
  • Ask why: Sometimes people push a color or idea for an underlying reason that might not be obvious. You may find that you can address their concern a better way than what they are suggesting, so you both get what you want.
  • The reason why I'm selected this answer above the others (they are all helpful in some way) is because I feel it's a more appropriate answer for how to defend my choices. Thanks! Mar 1, 2018 at 7:37

I didn't see this mentioned, so will add it into the discussion.

Colors should majorly be based on the end user/target audience. Different cultures, ages, occupations, customers, etc. respond to colors in predictable ways.

If you can demonstrate that your color choices will motivate the end users, you should be in a stronger position.


Well, the argument for the colour choice can be endless, because there can be billions of combination of colours and while designing, picking the colour is the tough part.

It is possible that you might revise the colours many times, to get the zing, that these are the colour I am looking for.

There are a lot of places where designer shares their colour pallet (colour combination of 4 to 5 colours), that's a great way to get the idea.

There are many colour palette websites out there:

  1. Color Hunt - Beautiful Color Palettes
  2. Google Material
  • Can you provide more info about one of these "places"? Feb 27, 2018 at 7:34
  • I have added the colour palette website in the answer itself. If you find this answer useful, don't forget to upvote and accept the answer. Feb 27, 2018 at 9:30

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