Color theory and visual design: an inseparable pair

Prompt: Write a blog entry reflecting on the use of color theory and visual design in instruction. How do you think they interact with each other to aid with teaching and learning? How is the use of visual design and color theory helpful? How can it detract from the learning process? How can you use it in development of media for teaching in learning? Do you think it transcends media formats?

Color theory is an attempt to classify colors in a way that effectively organizes color for meaningful visual applications (Cousins, 2012). Design theory is an attempt to identify essential perceptual experiences for maximum impact communicating a message, concept or idea (Lovett, 1999; Williams, 2008). Since color is one element of design theory, understanding both design and color theory should provide a synergistically positive impact on the overall instructional design process.

Memory falls into four categories: sensory, short-term, working, and long-term (Goldstein, 2011). Color theory and design theory both work together to draw the learner’s attention, which involves sensory memory. Once the learner’s attention has been successfully engaged then color and visual design work together to enable the learner to transfer the information from the short-term memory to long-term memory; thus, completing the learning process (Goldstein, 2011).

Proper use of color and design theory will help reduce the learner’s effort to organize the presented material, thus increasing the learner’s attention and short-term memory on the content of the information. Visually organizing the information will help draw the learner’s attention to the important concepts and help them make sense of what they are viewing (Williams, 2008). In Williams’s book, she discusses the design elements of Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity, or CRAP (2008). Effective instructional design should incorporate all of these elements. In fact, each of these elements cannot exist without the other when designing useful instructional content.

Failure to understand design and color theory could result in a chaotic, or worse, failed learning experience. If the instructional content lacks organization, unity, purpose, and/or balance, i.e., an obvious and sound visual relationship, the learner may not be able to successfully understand and process the knowledge (Cousins, 2012; Lovett, 1999; Williams, 2008). If the content is visually unappealing, hard to read, or difficult to decipher, the learner may ignore the instructional material in favor of other less educational and untrustworthy materials that do catch their attention. Effective instructional design materials are aesthetically pleasing yet also effectively and clearly convey information using the design principles of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity (Williams, 2008). Like items are grouped together, important details stand out, and the overall product has a cohesive design and feel.

Design and color theory are essentially ideas used to understand perception among human beings. As a result, both theories are applicable to any media format. Perception begins to direct our comprehension and learning with the automatic memory processes of our brains, such as sensory memories, and may continue to influence our entire learning process. Maximizing the benefits of learning and color theory may help reduce the comprehension and cognitive challenges of a learning task, thus increasing the possibility of a successful learning experience.


Cousins, C. (2012, February 28). Principles of color and the color wheel. Retrieved from

Goldstein, E. B. (2011). Cognitive psychology: Connecting mind, research, and everyday experience (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Lovett, J. (1999). Elements and principles of design. Retrieved from

Williams, R. (2008). The non-designer’s design book: Design and typographic principles for the visual novice (3rd ed.). Berkeley, CA: Peachpit Press.

Categories: CECS 5110 | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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