Coloring Outside the Lines with Jim Krause

Few things can wreck a good design quicker than bad typefaces or poor color choices. Jim Krause is on a mission to make sure your color choices are good ones. At HOW Design Live 2017, he’ll be presenting an essential session whose title pretty much says it all —  Color: 99 Things You Really Oughta Know.

Jim has worked as a designer, a photographer, an illustrator, and a writer (all four in a single day, surprisingly often) since the 1980’s. Over the years, he’s done jobs for a wide range of clients, large and small, including Microsoft, Kodak, Cingular Wireless, Seattle Public Schools, Levi Strauss, Washington Apples and more. Krause has authored 17 books about design, digital photography and creativity, including the Color Index series for HOW Books.

We recently asked him about making smart color choices, and about how color captures his eye out in the world; he weighed in from his home office in Boise.

Color Index, Color Index 2, Color for Designers … you’ve literally written the book on color. What most surprised you as you dug into your research on color?
It’s true: You can’t help but learn a lot about any subject when you write about it. This is kind of nerdy, but with color, the thing that surprised me most was finding out that the traditional color wheel — with red, blue and yellow as primary colors — really isn’t the best color wheel for designers and artists. Instead, the “CMY” color wheel — with cyan, magenta and yellow as its primaries — does a better job predicting what happens in real life when colors are blended. And, as you might’ve guessed, the CMY color wheel is what’s behind the beauty of CMYK printing.

Seems like designers start out giddy about picking colors for a brand or campaign and then quickly get bogged down because there are so many choices. What’s the first smart step in choosing a color palette?
Interestingly, I’d say that the first step is to rule out all the choices that are off the table. Like, for instance, all the color schemes that are in use by your client’s competitors. And also any colors that simply seem to be disliked by your target audience. A bit of online research will help you here, and once you’ve identified any out-of-bounds colors, you’ll not only be looking at a narrower range of potential choices for your project, you’ll also be able to work without worrying about wasting time on impractical selections.

If I’m a veteran designer, what’s there for me to still learn about color?
I’ve been in love with color and art since I was old enough to know that crayons were for drawing instead of eating. And still, I learn new things about color every time I look at a painting by Paul Klee, Michelangelo, Sandro Botticelli and any of about a hundred other fine and commercial artists. And every time I learn something new about color it brings new questions to mind, and the answers to those questions just bring up more questions, and more answers, and on and on …

Jim Krause: I like to paint. Just for fun. It teaches me TONS about color.

Jim Krause: I like to paint. Just for fun. It teaches me TONS about color.

Has a client ever given you the “I hate purple” argument (or something along those lines)? How did you sell your color choice?
Ha! I think the only reason I actually hear “I hate green” more than “I hate purple” is that most people don’t even want to talk about purple. So, the main thing with color choices is that a designer should actually never choose a color solely because either they or their client love it. And neither should designers avoid colors solely because either they or their client hate it. It ALL comes down choosing colors that are likely to appeal to the audience being targeted by whatever project you’re working on. Target audience is everything. Diplomatically explain this to your client, do whatever research and investigation is needed to get a good picture of the tastes of your target audience, and then look for good-looking colors that (a) are likely to appeal to this audience, and (b) aren’t being used by competitors.

Best book you’ve read lately
Anna Karenina (my third time reading this one—it’s still a favorite)

Favorite coffee roasterie
Me. I roast my own organic fair-trade coffee beans in my backyard.

Top mind-clearing hike
Anything on the outskirts of Boise, ID. I heart sagebrush.

Favorite color
The faded pimento green on an old Italian tablecloth

Most underappreciated color
The deep azure blue of late twilight

Favorite photo subject
This past month or so, my bicycles

Jim Krause: Speaking of color, I always choose bikes that have colors that excite me. It makes me ride faster. I love the orange-on-dark-gray going on here. And I also loved the way the bike looked in front of the colors of one of my favorite pieces of local graffiti.

Jim Krause: Speaking of color, I always choose bikes that have colors that excite me. It makes me ride faster. I love the orange-on-dark-gray going on here. And I also loved the way the bike looked in front of the colors of one of my favorite pieces of local graffiti.

Join Jim Krause for his must-attend session on color at HOW Design Live, or explore sessions on typography, sketching and other topics that will fuel your design passion. DON’T MISS OUT: Score a fantastic Early Bird Registration rate if you sign up TODAY!

COMMENT