In the technical documentation of my application I want to split up the modules in different layers, e.g. (starting from the top):

  • Reporting layer
  • Business logic layer
  • Volatile data layer
  • Basic data layer
  • Database layer

A global image of the application will show all these layers, but I want specific documentation pages to also refer to the same colors.

I want to have a separate color for each of the layers, sufficiently different to make it clear in separate documentation files what we are talking about (based on the color), but still enough pleasing to the eye so that the global image doesn't look ugly.

The color scheme is not going to be used as a global color scheme throughout a web site, but just to indicate the different layers.

Any suggestions?

  • 1
    Hi Patrick, any answers to this question would be entirely opinion based. That's something the Stack Exchange sites try to avoid. You may do better to rephrase your question in a manner which would allow succinct, definitive answers rather than merely opinions. – Scott Nov 27 '13 at 11:52
  • Indeed I was afraid that this was too subjective, although I was hoping that there would be some good guidelines (I'm only a developer, not a graphic designer). – Patrick Nov 28 '13 at 13:05

Since you are looking for five different colors, one option could be to selct colors with a hue distance of 72° (= 360° in total).

I tried this with the color schemer here. Then I adjusted the red-orange color a little (increasing saturation) and rearranged the set because I wanted the business logic layer to be "blue".

Here's the result:

five different colors

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    Thanks. This looks clear, warm and isn't too aggressive (pure red, green, blue, ... would be too aggressive, not subtle enough). – Patrick Nov 28 '13 at 7:38
  • Glad you like it – John Nov 28 '13 at 8:38

@scott is right in his comment; but I am going to take the chance at an answer in a general fashion.

If you are looking for colour palettes and basic rule-of-thumb as regard to contrast, associative colour theory etc, then yes, there are basic helpful rules.

What you seem to want is five colours. You need to associate the colour with the content, so if your colours are meant to "teach" the user that - for ex - blue means basic data layers, than you need to use this colour in the actual content (headings? font colours? underline? icons? borders?). There need to be a "reference" in the content, so to speak.

You do not need to use these colours as global colour scheme of course, but I would then keep the global pretty neutral. People will pick up on subtleties, so you do not have to use glaring primary colours or massive hints. Just a decent contrast. You might have colour-impaired users, so do not skip explanatory text.

To create basic colour palettes that works reasonably well, there are a number of online generators:

Adobe Kuler

color scheme

to name but two.

(In information architecture, gray is usually the colour used for "inactive" or "unchangeable" content.)

I do not entirely understand what you mean by layers in a web application and what the actual content may be, but associative colours could have already widespread use.

Edit: one way to think about it, is cartography and mapmaking for colours that work well in proximity. Try the colorbrewer.

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