Do designers dream in Pantone with visions of rainbows in their heads? Color is a vital part of any graphic designer’s life – after all, they’re the ones paid to come up with pleasing color combinations that will sell a product. That’s why you often see a bold use of color for logos (think Pepsi’s use of primary-color red and blue) as well as websites (such as Graphic Design Blog’s paint-spattered header). While color definitely garners attention, there are times that black and white or a sepia tone will generate a different feeling. Think of how The Wall Street Journal, with its use of black and white, commands a serious, all-business sense, or how photos from the 1800s and early 1900s have an old-timey look with their sepia tone. Here are some more examples.
Graphic designer David Airey maintains a simple website with clean lines and black text on a white background. That lets the color photos on his blog – which are often of his work – shine through. The lesson here? Use black and white when you want other elements, such as your portfolio pieces, stand out.
Nothing says “classic” like a tone down from bright colors. Color photos can be beautiful, of course, but sometimes they can be garish. A sepia tone works well when you want to use a photograph on, for example, invitations, memorial service cards and business cards, because it conveys a sense of respect. A two-tone color scheme also works for the website example above because it creates a sense of contentment and relief; a full-color photo would have signaled more joy, but the essay – about recovering from cancer – is more about a happiness well earned after a lot of heartache.
Graphic design is not always about flashy and new. There is a time and a place to go back to basics and choose black and white instead of color. Just be sure to identify what feeling you want to bring out with your project as well as how you want yourself or your client to be represented.