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Elements of Design for VM Part 6: Colour

Part 6 of our skill building series will introduce you to the design element ‘colour’ and examine hot to use it when visual merchandising.

Colour is uncontainable. It effortlessly reveals the limits of language and evades our best attempts to impose a rational order on it. To work with colour is to become acutely aware of the insufficiency of language and theory – which is both disturbing and pleasurable.

– David Batchelor

About Colour:

Colour is intrinsically linked to light, with colour appearance and impact often affected by lighting conditions. Most people see the world in terms of colour but we can create designs in black and white as well as the colour spectrum. Colour symbolism varies with perception, culture and location. The colour red for example can at once symbolise passion, danger, anger, love, sex, power, cheap, Valentine’s , Christmas, Patriotism or Sale.

They key aspects of colour are:

Hue – referring to the colour name eg. red, blue, orange.

Value – referring to how light or dark the colour is

Chroma/intensity – referring to the purity eg. saturated or dull.


A Color Wheel is a tool used to organize color. It is made up of:

  • Primary Colors – Red, Yellow, and Blue. These colors cannot be created by mixing others.
  • Secondary Colors – Orange, Violet, and Green. Created by mixing two primary colors.
  • Intermediate Colors – Red Orange, Yellow Green, Blue Violet. Mixing a primary with a secondary creates these colors.

How we use Colour:

Colour is very important in creating the mood or emotional impact of an item or space. Colour choices can change the appearance of surrounding colours or be affected by their own context. Visual merchandisers will often choose a particular colour palette to create a certain atmosphere in a display or provoke an emotional response from viewers.

Warm colors are on one section of the color wheel and give the feeling of warmth eg. red, orange and yellow.

Cool colors are on the other side of the color wheel from the warm colors and create a feeling of coolness. eg. blue, violet and green.

Analogous colors are colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. eg. red, red orange, and orange. When used together they reinforce each other and create a feeling of harmony.

Complementary colours are opposite each other on the color wheel. eg. red and green. When placed next to each other they bring out the intensity of each other. They are usually strong, demanding and vibrant and will create ‘motion’ where there is none. Reducing the intensity will soften this effect eg. pink and mint green.

Monochromatic is one color used with different values and intensity. eg. pale blue, blue and navy. This can create a restful, easy to accept setting for merchandise.

Neutral colours (black, white, beige and brown) make good backgrounds for products because they don’t compete with what’s on display. White or beige tones can appear either contemporary and fresh or bland and sterile depending on how they are used. Black and white may be neutral when used separately but used together they create a strong statement.

1. An analogous colour palette of pink, red, maroon, purple and blue create a feeling of harmony in this fashion store window.

2. Complementary colours of blue and orange demand attention when combined.

3. A neutral grey background makes the white fabric of the dress appear brighter, whilst the green colour of the  cactus props brings out the intensity of the ruby red coloured accessories

4. A monochromatic colour palette of yellows in this display unifies the various objects whilst the vibrant hue chosen creates a feeling of sunshine and optimism.

5. The monochromatic green backdrop and accessories add a gentle, feminine freshness to the strong impact of the contrasting black and white colours of the clothing in this window display.

6. This neutral colour palette creates a luxurious and calming effect in the window of this beauty store whilst the gold adds a touch of luxury.

Stay tuned for the next installment of our series, Part 7: Texture.

Catch up on our previous instalments:

Part 1: Introduction to the Elements and Principles of Design for VM

Part 2: Elements of Design: Line

Part 3: Elements of Design: Shape/Form

Part 4: Elements of Design: Space

Part 5: Elements of Design: Light

Love to learn more about Visual Merchandising?

Check out our Visual Merchandising Training Courses.




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