An Exploration of Color – Finding our Palette
By Danielle Ternes • Oct 4, 2019
Late last year, the Creative Design group was tasked with creating a cohesive look for our editorial illustrations. At the time, we had several designers on the team, each with their own illustration style. There were a wide variety of tones among the illustrations and it wasn’t always clear if an illustration was custom because it didn’t represent the Industry Dive brand. As we grew, we wanted to make sure our imagery felt cohesive and reflected the high quality of our editorial team’s stories.
We decided the best way forward was to create a comprehensive illustration style guide based on the principles of our brand. The style guide would give us the building blocks to make unique, but still cohesive illustrations that screamed “Industry Dive!” The element we thought would have the greatest impact in unifying our illustration styles was color, so we decided to start there.
Several constraints immediately presented themselves when we started thinking about color schemes. We needed something that followed our brand philosophy of limited, strategic color use and worked well with our existing brand color, Dive Red. We wanted the colors to stand out from the traditional B2B news industry palettes and be accessible to color-blind readers.
Senior designer Kendall Davis led the effort to rethink how we used color in our illustrations. Our first couple of attempts didn’t get very far. We started with a set of five colors and planned to only use one of these colors (plus lighter tints of it) per illustration. The hope was that the illustrations would look unified, because they each had a monochromatic color scheme. This idea, however, proved very hard to execute. We struggled to show contrast and emphasis using only one color — and ended up cheating by using more than one. We also found some of the colors just didn’t work well in a monochromatic scale.
In response, Kendall proposed a gray palette paired with Dive Red. The grays would provide a neutral base and show depth, while Dive Red directed attention to important elements. This felt a lot more feasible to the rest of the designers, but we realized that gray, when paired with red, didn’t have the neutral look we expected. Instead, it gave the scene a dark and dismal feel.
The team agreed that we liked the strategic use of Dive Red, but we had different ideas about how to approach the rest of the palette. We decided we would all build on Kendall’s initial exploration and each propose a few color schemes. We applied them all to the same illustration, so we could easily compare how they would function in use.
Some of the palettes we came up with looked super cool. The black and red “Netflix approach” was very sleek, but we knew its flexibility would be limited. The options with several colors looked visually interesting, but often competed with Dive Red and didn’t allow it to function as a tool for emphasis. Lighter tints of Dive Red worked well for realistic light skin tones, but didn’t feel right combined with blue or purple for dark skin tones. These tints were also unmistakably pink, which has connotations that we felt muddied the impact of Dive Red. Blue contrasted well with Dive Red and as a cool color, receded to let Dive Red shine, but felt patriotic and unoriginal.
Out of all the options, there was one set of colors that stood out. Indigo paired well with Dive Red in all of its lighter tints and darker shades, giving us a lot of flexibility to make different illustrations. It worked for a full range of skin tones without some looking more realistic than others. Like blue, it supported Dive Red without competing, but had none of blue’s unwanted associations. In fact, it lacked any strong connotations at all, giving us an endless range of meaning to make with it. Indigo was polished and professional and paired well with respectable journalism, while also unique enough in the B2B news space to stand out. Using values of indigo to create contrast rather than using different hues allowed this palette to pass accessibility tests with flying colors.
“Our design team has talented individual illustrators, but until now, the illustrations lacked visual cohesion. Choosing indigo means a reader can immediately ascribe editorial value to it because they know it is an Industry Dive story.” – Ryan Willumson, Co-founder and CRO, Industry Dive
We tweaked and refined the values and the rules for the palette until we came to the solution that worked the best for us: Dive red, five indigos, and white, each paired with one or two darker shades for dimension and shadows.
Using the new palette wasn’t always easy. We had to practice creating depth and contrast with values of indigo instead of with different colors. We also had to check ourselves to make sure we were using Dive Red as a strategic tool for emphasis and not just decoration. But the effort and the time we put into developing the color scheme and learning how to use it were worth it. After the roll-out of the new color palette, our success was affirmed by positive feedback from the journalists we work with and from the founders of the company. We achieved our goal of unifying the illustrations and making them recognizable as custom Industry Dive work.