Picking The Right Colors For The Presentation

As with many of my clients , the first item of business is a discussion of my "Rules for Colors"

  1. Presentation colors should work together, not fight with each other. Stick with colors based on two of the three primary colors on a single slide.

  2. Match the background color to the presentation environment.

  3. Text and title colors should coordinate, not clash .

  4. Presentation colors should reflect the messages of the presentation, not work against them.

  5. Always have someone else check the color combinations before the presentation is finalized.

Rule 1: Pick Colors That Work Together

In general, if the background color is consists of two of the primary colors, the titles and text should use shades of those colors instead of a third color.

To test this, let's experiment.

  1. Start a new, blank presentation

  2. Insert a single slide with a title and some text

  3. Right-click on a blank area of the slide and select a background

  4. Click the dropdown box and select More Colors

  5. Set the background to grass green

  6. Save the change and return to the slide

  7. Right-click in the title placeholder and select Font

  8. In the Font window, click the dropdown for the font color

  9. Select the More Colors option

  10. Set the font color to orange and click ok

  11. Type some text in the title placeholder

  12. Repeat steps 7 through 10 to set the text color in the text placeholder

  13. Click off the placeholder so nothing is selected

These colors don't look so good together, do they? Do you know why? The background color is made up of blue and yellow. The text colors are made up of red and yellow colors. Putting these colors together breaks the first rule of color.

To fix this, we need to do one of the following: Change the background to a red-based color or a yellow-based color, or change the text colors to yellow-based colors or blue-based colors.

Let's play with the background first. Set the background color to red and then to yellow. Look at each closely enough to decide how they look. Then, set the background color to a light orange. Do any of these color combinations look good to you?

Okay, try changing the font colors instead. First, undo the text color changes so it is back to the green background with the orange title and the pink text. Now, change the text color to navy blue and the title color to a yellow. How does that look? Better or worse ?

The colors go together better, but the yellow may look somewhat washed out, depending on which green is used. Play some more with all three colors (background, font and title) until there is a combination you like. I like yellows on blues, as they go together well and are easy on the eyes.

For more practice and examples of good and bad color combinations, check out these websites :

  • Color Schemer Online “ Click on a color in the color choices or enter the RGB color number and this tool determines a color scheme based off that color. http://www.colorschemer.com/online.html

  • VisiBone's Online Color Wheel “ Shows the impact various colors have on each other. Click on each color in a scheme and see them stacked next to each other. http://www.visibone.com/colorlab

  • WebWhirlers' Colour Wizard “ Give this online tool the RBG values for a color and it returns a page of color relationships based purely on mathematical evaluation. http://www.webwhirlers.com/colors/wizard.asp

  • Colormaker ” Unique tool showing exactly how text looks on colored backgrounds. The interface isn't as nice as the others, but the resulting color combinations are good. http://www.bagism.com/colormaker

Rule 2: Base Background On Environment

This presentation uses combinations of yellows and blues. Since reds can be hard to read for some people, avoid them. For now, we'll play around with green backgrounds to see how the blues and yellows contrast.

Having decided which of the primary colors we are going to use, we need to decide which hues of these colors work best for the presentation. To make that decision, look at the presentation location and the size of the group .

Dark, deep hues work well for backgrounds for a dark room, and brighter, lighter backgrounds work well for well-lit rooms. This has a lot to do with how the human eye works in different light situations.

In George's case, he is presenting to a large group, turning off the lights and using a projection system. He needs a dark color background.

Change the color of the background several times to various shades of dark green. Stop when you have one that looks dark enough to project well and contrasts with the text and title colors. To find a color that works well, stick to the outside of the color wheel. Blue-green colors also work well.

If George were going to email his presentation to each person, he would probably want a color that draws a little more attention to the slide. To see some good selections for this setup, play around with the greens closer to the center of the wheel. (The font colors won't look as nice on the lighter green because they blend in more. For individual presentations, deepen the font colors so they retain the contrast with the background.)

Now, undo any changes made and set the background color to a deep forest green. I like the greens just to the right and left of the darkest greens on the color wheel.

Rule 3: Coordinate Your Text And Title Colors

Next, cleanup the font colors so they work as well together as they do with the background color.

Title and text colors should coordinate together, but contrast with the background. The color wheel helps accomplish this. Colors on the same ring go well together, but may not contrast enough. Colors on the same spoke contrast well, but may not always coordinate. Furthermore, the primary color most prevalent in the background is easier to coordinate than the less prevalent one. In this case, the blue is more dominant than the yellow in the green, so it will be easier finding blues to match than yellows.

Start by changing the mustard yellow to a brighter yellow. Try one of the yellows close to the center of the color wheel for the best results. Once you have a color you like, change the blue color. The blues that will probably look best are the navy blues and the bright blues.

Rule 4: Choose Colors That Reflect The Message

When selecting colors, think about the messages the colors suggest. In George's case, he has selected a green background because green, to George, means growth. To many people, green means money. Because he really wants financial support for the new project, he would probably do better with a different background.

Think about the presentation from management's viewpoint. Every time the green color comes up on the screen, management is likely to think about money, while George wants them to think about the return on the investment.

If George's cause already had colors attached to it, such as red, white and blue, he could change his background colors to one of those and make the audience think less about the money and more about the cause. However, because his company has orange as its corporate color, he does not want to do this. Why? Orange is a hard color for new designers to work with, since it is hard to match.

I recommend blue as the best choice for the background. It melds well with other colors. George wanted to use white, but I discouraged this idea because the glare of a pure white causes eyestrain, which makes the slides hard to look at for long periods. Avoid true red as a background color, since it is hard to coordinate. In addition, red could be a constant reminder of the possible debt might come from the additional funding.

Since we are changing the background color to blue, the text and title colors need to be changed as well. As an exercise, change the background to a blue that works for projector use and set the fonts appropriately.

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Tip 22: Learn more about color meanings

Want to learn more about the meanings people tend to attach to various colors? Check out these sites:

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Rule 5: Have Someone Else Look At The Colors

Always verify the color scheme with someone. Have a member of the target audience check the colors. You don't want to be like George and pick a color that means something you haven't thought about.

Rule 5 “ B: Color For The Color Deficient

Because about 8% of all adult males in the U.S. have color vision problems be sure the presentation is set up to minimize problems caused by color vision. (Want details on what percentage have which kind of color loss? Check out http://webexhibits.org/causesofcolor/2C.html)

People with color deficiencies generally do have some color vision; they can tell differences between colors, but they do not see colors the same as people with full color vision.

One of the common forms of color vision problems is the inability to differentiate between some greens and some reds. If using different shades of red and green to indicate positive and negative comments in a presentation, you run the risk of not presenting the message to portions of the audience, since they may see the opposite of what you expect them to see.

Another example is a presentation with light red or pink text elements on a brown background. A color-deficient audience member may not see some of the text, depending on the specific color combinations used.

A third common color vision problem comes into play with those who do not see shading. A common color vision problem is the inability to tell blue shades from one another and from purple shades. In this case, blue-on-blue presentation elements fade together and may not be visible.

One other common problem for people with color deficiencies is light levels. Darker areas will greatly change the amount and strength of the colors they can see. Rooms with scattered brightly lit areas will also make it hard for those with color vision problems.

What Can The Presentation Developer Do?

Educate yourself. Learn about colors that work well together from the perspective of the audience. If you know someone who has color problems and is willing to work with you on color combinations, ask for help. No matter what, test out the color combinations in the actual lighting environment.

There are many great web resources available to educate yourself and check presentations. I have found these sites to be the most useful.

  • VisiCheck (http://www.vischeck.com) This site has great information and links regarding how colors are seen by people. They have a program that can be run either from the web or from a computer that does a simulation of how images and web pages look to persons with color vision problems. How does this help the PowerPoint developer? You can either save the presentation as a web page and run the color checker on a site or save the presentation as JPEGs and run the image checker on the files on disk. If using the checker several times, it is worthwhile to download the tool. Instructions for doing so are at the site.

  • WebExhibit's Causes of Color articles (http://webexhibits.org/causesofcolor/index.html). This site contains several articles describing how the eye sees colors, how color vision problems affect colors and what percentage of the population is affected by the different color vision problems.

Kathy Jacobs On PowerPoint
Kathy Jacobs On PowerPoint
ISBN: 972425861
Year: 2003
Pages: 166

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