Tips & Tricks

How to Use Color Theory to Improve Your Next Research Presentation

January 25, 2019
Colleen O'Rourke

It’s challenging to convey the real world application of complex data to the people who use it. But in marketing, data is meaningless without context. That’s why market research presentations must communicate a clear message and hold an audience’s attention.

Designers know that it’s not just raw information, but style, that’s crucial to providing context. They use well-established principles of color theory to enhance the readability of text and image comprehension, and to invoke an emotional response. Using the right combination of colors in your presentation will make your message stronger and your point more effective.

What Is Color Theory?

You might remember the color wheel from school. You learned that no amount of paint mixing will achieve the primary colors of red, yellow and blue, but putting together these hues creates orange, purple and green. Color theory includes this idea of primary, secondary and tertiary colors, but also encompasses how colors work well together in an image (color harmony) or cause an aspect to “pop” or stand out (color context). Color harmony results from a selection of colors consistent with a theme. Complementary schemes use colors opposite one another on the color wheel, like purple with yellow, blue with orange or red with green. An analogous scheme combines colors next to each other, like yellow-green, yellow and yellow-orange. In analogous palettes, one color normally dominates — in this case, yellow. Nature themes draw inspiration from real-world color combinations that are pleasing to the eye. Color context is the effect one color has in contrast with another. Red is brilliant over blue-green but dull over orange. Some color combinations can trick they eye, so different background colors make the same hue appear to be a different shade. If your presentations are thin on text and high on graphics, contrast helps make important words prominent. For instance, make the key word in your sentence yellow, while leaving the rest of the phrase white.

Tips for Using Color Theory

To help your audience focus on data-driven charts and graphs, avoid colors that are hard to see, that clash or that elicit a negative emotional response. Use either a light background with dark text or vice versa. Keep in mind these tips when you’re putting together the color palette of the presentation that explains your research findings, and step back to see it from your audience’s perspective.

Emotional Response of Colors

Keep in mind that gray, black and blue are conservative shades that invoke feelings of security. Green and brown are connected to nature. Purple is about wisdom, red about passion, orange about warmth and yellow about optimism. Each of these are different depending on your audience member, but consider using red and black sparingly if you want to lighten the mood of your presentation.

Things to Avoid

Red and green, although they are complementary colors, clash with each other. These are also difficult for people with color vision deficiencies to distinguish. Similarly, orange and blue might have a dizzying effect as they appear to move. Red and blue also blur together.

Options to Choose

Give these color combinations for text and background a try:

Navy background with white or yellow textBeige background with blue or purple text

For a general palette based on a nature scene, consider these options:

Light and dark brown and yellow-greenGray, mauve, brown and whiteLight blue, light and dark gray and yellow-greenTeal, light blue, dark gray and beigeLavender, black, light gray and dark gray

If you need more inspiration, find a picture of a pleasing outdoor scene and pick out the colors you see.

Bonus Tip: Keep it Simple

Too many pictures or color make for a distracting overall image. Stick to five colors maximum and, if you include a photo, choose one that makes your point and that will pique your audience’s interest.

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