The Cure for Color Madness

Besides mismatched fonts in presentations, my other biggest bugaboo is seeing mismatched colors. I often show people how the newer versions of powerpoint actually help with picking the right accent colors through the use of pre-defined Color Themes under the Design Menu. Still people end up with hideous color combinations. What I have found is many people have not had the opportunity or invested the time to understand how basic color theory works. In this post I thought I’d share some bare essentials and point people to a couple of helpful resources that I use.

Most people are generally aware of the color wheel.  Beyond that what I find is that people do not understand the way the colors on a color wheel are related to each other. Understanding these relationships or color harmonies is the key to eliminating Color Madness. Check out this link for a crisp introduction to some of the key color harmonies e.g. Monochromatic, Analogous, Complementary, Split Complementary, Triadic, Tetradic, Square etc.

Once you understand the basic relationships between colors, you are then ready to create and apply your own color pallets comprised of color that are harmonious.  One of my favorite tools to help with this is – Kuler. Kuler is a web-based color tool provided by Adobe. In addition to providing you the ability to define your own color themes, the Kuler web site hosts a whole range of themes created and used by a community of designers. You may register on Kuler to save and share your own themes but are free to use it without registering. There are three ways in which you can use Kuler.

  • Using a Base Color: This allows you to pick a base color and then create a pallet from the base color using one of the color harmony rules. Say you are creating a new presentation template for a company. You could use the main color from the logo as the “base color” in Kuler. Then you can choose one of the color rules and Kuler will display a matching pallet.
  • Using an Image: If you want to create a pallet that matches a picture – say for a custom project such as a greeting card, Kuler will allow you to upload your picture and then generate a pallet based on a “mood” such as “Colorful”, “Bright”, “Muted” etc. You can then tweak the colors that Kuler suggests if you’d like.
  • Using a pre-defined Theme: As mentioned before, the Kuler site has a number of Themes created, rated and ranked by other users i.e. the community. You can simply pick one that closely matches your needs or modify it. There are over 14,000 themes to choose from – many of these designed and contributed by the designers of leading web sites.

Once you have defined your color pallets, you can then use the color definitions i.e. RGB values, to define the colors in PowerPoint using Create New Theme Colors under Colors in the Design Menu.

BTW, if you are truly looking to design to accommodate Color Blindness, take a look at You can upload any image – such as an image of your presentation, and see how it appears to someone who is color truly blind.

(image credit: )

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