Design Tips for the Classroom Part 3 (1)

Episode III (homage to Star Wars) in the Design Tips for Presentations four part series.   Last week, I discussed the importance of tip two, images.  We learned that it’s best to avoid overloading the slide/presentation with too many images and instead spread them over many pages.  In addition, maintaining consistency with images in aspects to understanding.  To sum up last week, I mentioned using textual images as opposed to bulleted items on a page.  This week we will dig into the impact color has on presentations.

Copy of Design Tips for the Classroom

col·or ˈkələr/ noun 1. the property possessed by an object of producing different sensations on the eye as a result of the way the object reflects or emits light.

Color does have a way of causing emotive reactions.  I know I get nervous when I see flashing red and blue lights!  LOL!  Thankfully it wasn’t for me.  I know when I was setting up my classroom, there was a theory that cool colors like blue and green are relaxing, while warm colors like red and yellow are exciting.  I tried it and it seemed to work.  This image from Nick Kolenda at seems to support my anecdotes regarding colors in the classroom.


There’s a whole science behind using colors in marketing.  Certain colors attract buyers to buy their products.   Even to a point that you relate colors to certain brands.  Here’s a quick video on the psychology of choosing colors.

Now for a little test.  Look at the following image color sets and try to guess the brand.  Scroll further down for the answers.  Try not to cheat!

Because color has such an influential impact on consumers, some of the most successful companies have taken advantage of this strategy to attract buyers.  Why not use this tested and successful method in the classroom?  If you guessed McDonalds, Starbucks, and Taco Bell, you got it!  Fortunately, colors aren’t copyrighted which is why you see other brands use similar color schemes.  But I think you all can see the influence color has on the psyche.  


Understanding how colors work together can get very complex, but using a tool like the color wheel will help immensely.  A color wheel is amazingly useful when you need to make a conscious decision about choosing colors for a project.   I’ll provide a brief explanation of the color wheel and how to use it shortly.

The color wheel begins with yellow, red, and blue. These are called the primary colors because they’re the only colors you cannot create.  That is, if you have a box of watercolors, you know you can mix blue and yellow to make green, but there is no way to mix pure yellow, red, or blue from other colors.


Using the primary colors, we can expand the color wheel to twelve colors.  Notice the three colors in between each primary color.  For example, between yellow and blue you had a combination of greens based on how much yellow and blue you mix together.  That’s how we end up with twelve total colors.  Now these twelve colors can have several types of relationships between each other creating effective color combinations which include complimentary, split, triads, and analogous.  There are others but for the sake of this blog I’m limiting it to those mentioned beforehand.


Have you been to a sporting event or watched a game on TV?  Chances are you have seen plenty examples of complementary colors.  Most high school, college, and professional team’s uniforms follow complimentary colors from the color wheel.  Here’s an example of the San Diego Padres with blue and orange.  Coincidentally, there are many other teams that use the same color combination.


Colors directly across from each other, exact opposites, are complements. Because they’re so opposite, they often work best when one is the main color and the other is an accent.


Split colors are closely related to complimentary colors in that colors are in the opposite spectrum.  Think of it as adding a level of sophistication above complimentary.

Choose a color from one side of the wheel, find its complement directly across the wheel, but use the colors on each side of the complement instead of the complement itself.


Think triangle formation for triads.  Starting with primary colors (red, blue, yellow) move the triad clockwise or counterclockwise to match up colors.  So you will get a green, orange, and purple.  


An analogous combination is composed of colors that are next to each other on the wheel. No matter which two or three you combine, they all share an undertone of the same color, creating a harmonious combination.  You can never go wrong with these combinations.

Let’s put this into practice.  Below you’ll see an example of a math lesson on the slide.  The first example has a hodgepodge of colors with no real organization.  The colors have no relationship and can be chaotic. In the second, example, I took an approach of using analogous colors along with black and white.  Less chaos and more harmony!

color-shapes-01 color-shapes-02

Why does this matter?  Think about cognitive load theory.   The example on the left can cause the learner to be distracted by trying to figure out the colors instead of the actual content.


Color may be something you have never thought about when designing or creating lessons.  With a bit of color theory understanding, you can create slides or presentations that will be more appealing and easier on the eyes.  Consider using color theory on your next presentation.  You may be surprised!

Stay tuned for the final part in the Design Tips for Presentations!

Color Resources


“Color Psychology: The Complete Guide for Marketers.” Nick Kolenda. N.p., 29 Oct. 2015. Web. 11 Aug. 2016.

“Color Psychology: The Complete Guide for Marketers – Nick Kolenda.” 2015. 11 Aug. 2016

“Why Color Matters – Colorcom.” 2012. 11 Aug. 2016

“Color Theory – Tips and Inspiration By Canva – Canva Design School.” 2015. 12 Aug. 2016 <


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