HomeProduct DesignDesign Tips3 Great Benefits of Color Coding in Product Design

3 Great Benefits of Color Coding in Product Design

Product designers and marketers can use color coding for 3 reasons: to convey a message, to convey a feeling, or to easily distinguish between elements. As such this design trick should be used as frequently as possible in any virtual or physical creation, such as GUI, road signs, toys, tools, or safety equipment to improve ergonomics.

In combination with other senses such as shape, sound, and others, color coding usage is applicable in product designs so as in any lean process to mark factory equipment, but also offices and public areas.

Color Coding To Convey a Message

Color coding is one of the methods to convey important messages or instructions, in the visual family of all 6 senses.

The objective is to pass a message in the most efficient way, with colors having the advantage of being fast, not requiring too many reading capabilities (children… ) & international (no translation needed)

Standardized Color Codings

For signs or to convey a message, refer to

ISO 3864-3:2012: Graphical symbols — Safety colors and safety signs — Part 3: Design principles for graphical symbols for use in safety signs

complemented by:

ISO 3864-4:2011: Graphical symbols — Safety colors and safety signs — Part 4: Colorimetric and photometric properties of safety sign materials

Other particular regulations will refer to or follow these rules, like the medical industry for its labels or machine or equipment directives for all colored warnings and safety measures.

Green Color Coding
Green Color Coding

Usual Color meanings

Red & Green

the most frequently used, as

  • Go/NO GO
  • OK/NOT OK
  • WORKING/NOT WORKING

and less frequently as Danger / Safe

Yellow Black Warning
Yellow Black Warning

Yellow

The general warning color

  • Usually used alone as a “Work in progress” message
  • Or used in combination with black in stripes (“danger zone”)

Blue

Blue can be misleading in everyday usage:

    • Notice that only the traffic rules sign or in ISO standards is blue the color of mandatory instructions

Would you say that the Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn blue logos convey a mandatory instruction message?

    • In everyday life, logos or products, the blue color is usually related to innovation or the future as seen in the video below

White / Black

Should be used with care, if the color itself needs to carry a message; they are mainly understandable if the opposite is also visible (like a boolean/yes-no message), as both could be a text or the background.

Tip: remember the old graphic rule that the dark supersedes, or overflows visually, on the light: a black bar on white background, will appear thicker than a white bar on a black background, even if the thickness is the same.

up to 3 different colors does help the ergonomics, 4-5 is a design challenge, and more than 5 is usually counterproductive

Tip: mind the background of the product: it should already count as one color to distinguish from if it is not white or black!

Color Coding to Convey a Feeling

Culture, history, and psychological aspects play a big role also in color decisions:

YouTube player

 

Cultural or local exceptions: black and white colors are frequently mentioned as very cultural dependant colors that can be either related to submission, power, respect, religion, sadness, or happiness… very opposite messages, depending on local culture. Other examples? Please comment on the right

Color feelings
Color feelings

 

As an example, these beautiful houses in the picture on the right: while the scenery is magnificent and do convey big emotions, such

a mix of dull colors should not be used to convey aN informative message in product design

clear secondary colors
clear secondary colors

Colors To Distinguish Elements

The colors have no particular meaning here, but the role of making clear differences between objects. They usually use much more different colors than the cases above and these objects or labels may be very close to each other, making the color differentiation even more critical

This is used in games, in the industry, in Lean organizations, or in safety equipment such as in the library examples bellow

Colors Pallets to use

Pro color palette
Pro color palette

Depending on the required quantity of color needed, some tips to chose these colors

    • Do not make take two variants of the same color in density (ex.: light orange vs orange)
    • If the purpose is purely informational,
      • take a color with a clear known name, not just for specialists
      • use a professional color palette and chose the most frequent colors.
        • These could be primary colors or secondary colors
        • This will make already available paints or inks (easier to source, cheaper, and more compliant with health and safety standards, so as resistance and fire protection…) 
    • If your product is software or any kind of GUI, that needs some online display, use web colors whenever possible to ensure defacto all support compatibility
    • use complementary colors if many are required or more originality (see links and video below).
Recommended online free tools to use in the innovation.world Directory:HTML Color Picker
Colormind.io IA colors schemes designer
Paletton.com color palette designer
YouTube player

Color Coding Examples

resistor color
resistor color

Electronics Industry

Used for resistor value coding: as an international standard, some stripes indicate the resistance value, while some indicate its tolerance. Such coding has been developed since the 1920s as the need for very small internal markings.

Read more on Electronic Color Coding for details.

Color blind detection
Color blind detection

And if No Color?

  • Black and White because of the process: ebony and ivory on the traditional piano keys, but not only; color may not be an option because of price or process (laser marketing, black inkjet, ePaper,  …)
  • color blind people

then, in the pallet of visual design tricks still available, designers will have to combine other visual aids to highlight any particular message:

colors AND shapes
colors AND shapes
  • shapes: triangles, circles, square hexagons such as on road signs
  • font style and size
  • Regular / Bold to emphasize the importance
  • Capitals (BUT NOT TOO MUCH)
  • special signs, marks, and logos
  • embossing if process permits (paper usually, but feasible also on metal, plastic, tissues)

to be combined with other traditional human senses, the more frequent in communication being:

  • sound: tone, frequency, level, and sequence of notes can be used for warnings, OK, NOT OK, validation, or indication of proximity
  • touch: not only for bling users
RELATED ARTICLES
Exact matches only
include Online Tools
include Events

WIKI / PARTICIPATE !

Share suggestions, corrections,  examples, experience or ideas that may be integrated in this article

NEW / UPDATED

Less Is More. Why You Want To Design Simple

"Complexity is your enemy. Any fool can make something complicated. It is hard to make something simple." Sir Richard...

Forms Follow Function … in Product Design Especially

"Forms Follow Function" is an old key design concept that started in architecture in the mid of the...

“Best” 10 Concrete Design Mistakes To Avoid

Avoid these product design mistakes for a lot of troubles: some product features or technologies are tempting at...

Great 10 Logo Design Tips You Will Use

A great video from Aaron Draplin & LinkedIn Learning about logo design and the necessary ideas and concepts...

The Ultimate Design Review Checklist

Do not close any Design Phase without this. This extensive design review checklist is to be used at...

UPCOMING EVENTS