Many times I have seen an introduction to color theory in design, however most of them were focused in their chromatic nature.

Recently I was thinking that color temperature, brightness, saturation... also have a meaning. Like when bright colors transmit youth and dark ones a sense of seriousness.

Do professionals use some type of tools or techniques to ensure a uniform use of color temperature? How do they measure them?

I am just a programmer with some interest in design, so for me color is evaluated just by the RGB values allowed in a browser. Most of my interest lies in finding more formal ways to think, track, balance and document color choices.

  • 2
    Far from a complete answer, so a comment: uniform temperature, brightness and saturation are what's the HSB colour space is for. Have a look at it.
    – Vincent
    May 26 '15 at 9:31
  • thanks for the link! I with that I could imagine some type of color picker where a designer can draw lines (as a reference for future color picks), even annotate them to document the values related with one project design, at least the ones that must be constantly reviewed. May 26 '15 at 14:05
  • Adobe's H(SB) colour picker is a lot like that, imho. You can leave H(ue) intact and vary Saturation and Brightness. Just click the H value in Photoshop or Illustrator's colour pickers to enter this mode.
    – Vincent
    May 26 '15 at 14:25
  • Color as meaning is a trap. "We" means culture and different cultures assign different meanings to colors: imagine a bride in a red dress in the US. This might actually lead to a family scandal. In Japan, red is the traditional bride color. Additionally, green may be soothing to some people, but mean death to others. Once you realize the plasticity of the idea, you must retreat from specificity and that pretty much eliminates it as a universal language in the way that the question is asking for.
    – Yorik
    May 26 '15 at 14:48

There is no way to map a given color to any form form of expression or meaning. If there would be any, I wouldn’t trust it.

Colors (or anything else for that matter) doesn’t have meaning. Nothing has meaning. Meaning isn’t something absolute or measureable like mass or wave-length. Meaning or any form of emotional effect is something that is given by the viewer. Someone looks at a given color and thinks it feels warm, or remembers him of summer or make something look serious.

This is an unbelievable complex problem, but there is one main reasons why you can’t get what you are asking for:

Meaning arises from context

The meaning of anything (not just color) depends on what it’s context is in. A dark grey can mean serious business, but it can also mean death and could therefor be associated with the gothic scene. For basically anything the spectrum of possible meanings is so large that it could be anywhere.

Lets for example look at the color orange. Here are a few examples how we can change the meaning of the color orange:

enter image description here

  • What color is next to it
  • What is surrounding the color
  • What kind of object the color is used for
  • How large is the portion of a given color

While all images use the same orange, the emotional reaction and the meaning will differ in all images. This is something you can easily check for yourself by looking at those pictures and trying to check what the oranges feels like to you in every single one. On top of that you get another problem:

Cultural difference

Depending on what culture you have grown up in, what you have experienced in life, where you live in the world etc. the meaning of things (including color) can change dramatically — making it impossible to say what a single color means.

In summary this was a really long answer to say: What you are asking for can’t be done and you shouldn’t even try to approach the problem from this point of view. Rather accept the complicated nature of the problem, instead of trying to simplify it to a point where you trust you predictions, even though they would basically be completely random.


Probably this is question is too big to make a proper response. But I'll start with some ideas.

Color temperature has different meanings in design (and related arts and science)

1) Psychological aspect

This is how we perceive color. We perceive red as a hot, because if we put a needle on the stove it turns red and we know it is hot.

We perceive orange and yellow as summer time and white and blue as cold. This relationships are how we perceive color in daily basis.

In a chromatic circle we separate colors in hot and cold... of course we need to define something in between, so the ones that are not red or blue (green, purples or magentas) we just call them warm... But probably that has not much sense.

A logo could use this basic relations. A red logo energetic. A blue one calm.

2) Color temperature in physics and photography

As you probably know color temperature is a theoretical model of heating a black object, so the more intense heat generates more energetic electromagnetic waves.

This is how we know the temperature of a star for example.

But this turns out that the color wavelength is backwards as we perceive them normally. A red color is cooler than a blue one. White is in the middle... Actually white is just a perception of a combined range of color temperatures.

Color temperature is a crucial factor in photography. It is not about the real temperature, but a way to balance the white point.

It is funny how we perceive a reddish photo as a warm one and a blue or white one cold.

Coming back to your question

that color temperature, brightness, saturation...

Color temperature is an aspect of Hue, the chromatic nature.

Normally color models have a 2 dimensional base and a 3d component for variations.

Color temperature is one linear dimension that is complemented with tint, and thoose 2 are very limited. You have some mixed ideas on the color models. Color temperature is not necessary the same as hue, or HSL or HSV models.

for me color is evaluated just by the RGB values allowed in a browser. Most of my interest lies in finding more formal ways to think, track, balance and document color choices.

RGB values allowed in current hexadecimal technologies are just the options you have.

But the first design aspect is How do you make choices. That is a very complex question.

Balance is a "fine tuning" point of the design process. Track probably is an administrative aspect (given in a design manual).

And think color... I hope that is what makes a designer a designer. :0)

Edited some time later

You do not think on any project as one color. You could not see any black text on a black background. You need at least two colors.

This implies that one aspect of thinking in color are color relationships. For example, you could have a ,saturated subject on a non saturated background, a warm object on a cold background, or more specific, a warm main light with a blue ambient light.

This kind of topics can be found using a more detailed search on google, like

Or even more specific on adjacents fields of design.

Color is not an isolated topic. It is in every day life. So it has psicological, practical, technical, cultural compenents, etc.

  • Oh. Yorik. I edited the text and you corrections were not applied... Sorry. I dont know how to reverse it.
    – Rafael
    May 26 '15 at 15:02
  • No problem, just some misspellings
    – Yorik
    May 26 '15 at 17:45

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