Choosing your colour direction for 2016

Sarah Sullivan


Posted on January 18, 2016

Whether it’s a full brand overhaul, a product release, or a new communication project, colour will inevitably play a part in your design and marketing conversations during 2016. Or, at least, it should do.

Colour matters because it powerfully affects how we feel and respond. Get it wrong, and you’ll switch people off long before they’ve even started to pay attention to what you have to say.

Our short guide will remind you why it’s always important to think hard about your colour choices and point the way to choosing the perfect new shades for your 2016 projects.

What is colour?

Colour cannot exist without light.

Light is composed of different colours, all mixed together but distinct, each operating at different wavelengths and frequencies. When light hits an object, some of these colour waves are absorbed by the object’s surface, while others bounce off. The colour we see is made up of the colours that are reflected.

We see white – the true colour of natural light – when no colour is absorbed and all colours are reflected into our eyes equally.

Human eyes can only detect three types of reflected colour: red, green and blue. But even just these three receptors allow humans to perceive a broad spectrum of other colours.

RGB colour

How is each colour different?

The word ‘red’ is a description, but it’s not a universal one. What about strawberries vs. cherries or mahogany vs. blood? We could describe them all as red, but each has subtle differences.

This is because each colour varies in terms of its hue (shade), saturation (richness of colour) and brightness (luminance).


When we try to describe a colour, what we’re often describing is its hue.

To help make hue attributes less vague, designers use the colour wheel – a circle showing the three primary colours, red, blue and green, with the relative mixes of those colours displayed in between.

Red mixed with green makes yellow, so with red at the top of the circle and green at 120 degrees, the yellows will appear in the middle, between 50 and 60 degrees.

Designers will often refer to the distinct hue of a colour by this degree position, with perfect yellow defined as 56 degrees.


The saturation of colour describes its richness – the redness of red, for example. Reduce the saturation of a colour, and the colour will fade until it eventually becomes a shade of grey. Saturation is typically referred to as a percentage, from 100% (high, rich) saturation down to 0% (grey).


Again, we usually express this as a percentage between 0 and 100%, but this time it refers to the intensity of light involved. Red at 0% brightness, for example, will be seen as black (no light at all), while 100% brightness will show red at its fullest capacity.

Colour associations

Scientists, psychologists and anthropologists have long explored the impact of colour on human feelings and behaviour, and the part each colour has played in ancestral and modern experiences. Colour has a powerful and instant impact on our psyche, with different associations reinforced over centuries – like stories passed through generations.

As such, we all naturally associate colours with different things. Specific colours are likely to make you feel certain emotions and spark associated perceptions and ideas, about objects, products, and brands. Different cultural associations, too, may also make us feel more positively or negatively towards certain colours in certain contexts.

Brands and colour

Colour combinations

With these influential associations underlying every colour choice, the colour themes/combinations you choose become crucial to achieving a successful design project. Colours need to complement each other, not clash, and bring the right personality and messages to the brand or project.

The trouble is, personal taste plays a part, too. We all have different, subjective opinions about what looks good, and so choosing colours by eye alone can lead to problems.

Luckily, there are many tools readily available on the web to help you pick combinations of colours that work well together, based on reliable mathematic equations.

Here are a few of our favourites:

Colour trends for 2016

Pantone announced their colours of the year as soft pink and a muted, periwinkle blue.

Why these colours? It was decided these best tap into our society’s current needs and feelings, acting as “an expression of a mood and an attitude”.

They describe their Rose Quartz shade as, “a persuasive yet gentle tone that conveys compassion and a sense of composure” and Serenity as, “weightless and airy, like the expanse of the blue sky above us, bringing feelings of respite and relaxation even in turbulent times.”

Dulux, on the other hand, looked at architecture, fashion and interior design to pick their colour of the year, and chose warm, ‘cherished gold’ as a colour that unifies, bringing together the look of classical art, modern trends, and the colour of the earth. This colour forms part of a wider palette of muted, sophisticated colours based on expert predictions on what will be “the major global developments in the coming years.”

The Trend Council have highlighted hot, bright shades while The Creativity Exchange has featured much more understated tones. Within the fashion industry, Fashion Snoops have predicted “a continuation of pastels that become notably more saturated”, while Behr has focused on the need for “sensory-rich” colours using varying hues and intensity.

Bearing in mind the associations with each colour and their suitability for your brand, could you take advantage of any of these well-respected palettes?

Each year, colour trends are inspired, discussed, and championed by many different mediums, environments, industries and professions. And there’s no reason for you not to do the same!

Take a look around and see what inspires you. You never know, you could start a trend of your own.