/ What is Colour Theory?

Colour theory explains how humans perceive colour — on an emotional and instinctive level — as well as how colours mix, match or clash. Our creative director, Cat How, looks at this more closely.

Colour theory is both the art and the science of colour. Essentially, it is guidance on the visual effects of combining colours, as well as practical advice on colour mixing.

"It is the best possible sign of a colour when nobody who sees it knows what to call it"

John Ruskin, 1859

Colour theory explains how humans perceive colour — on a subconscious level — as well as how colours mix, match or clash. As a result, colour theory also includes categories of colours based on the Colour Wheel — including primary colours, secondary colours, and tertiary colours.

It is important to know how different colours can evoke different emotions. All colours are imbued with multiple layers of meaning. Some have primitive responses, based on millions of years of evolved instinct within us. Some are complex, based on cultural associations between colour and emotion that we make based on learned assumptions.

Knowing what these emotions are, and why certain colours elicit these responses in us, is also a key component of colour theory. At How & How we use colour theory to influence our brand colour palettes which form part of our brand identity development. These are a unique combination of colours that express the personality and ethos of a brand. 

We're particularly in love with Kassia St Clair's book The Secret Lives of Colour — a history of colours that is the story of science as well as art. If you haven't read it yet, we thoroughly recommend it.