Maybe it goes without saying, but every color has a place and purpose. There are times when you want bright, flashy colors and there are times when you should avoid them at all costs. As you begin working and designing with color, one of the first things you’ll want to consider is saturation.
Saturated colors are considered “pure” colors; in other words, they haven’t been subdued or tainted in anyway—no blacks or grays or whites added to the colors to make them seem duller or lighter or more like a pastel. Consider saturated colors the pure forms of the primary and secondary colors: red, yellow, blue, orange, green, and purple.
Oftentimes you’ll want to use destaturated colors in order to keep a more professional or serious feel, but there are many legitimate times for using bright, saturated colors. Here are a few:
When you need to attract attention
Saturated colors have a very iconic value to them, meaning that they are memorable and good for symbols and logos. You’ll notice that most commercial chain companies whose business it is to attract attention (like retail and food joints) use saturated colors for their logos. No browns, grays, or salmons. (Yuck!) If you need to create a logo for a company that needs to pull in customers off the freeway, use a saturated color scheme!
When you want to create an exciting atmosphere
Depending on what you’re designing, you may want to create a mood of excitement. Consider birthday parties or other celebrations. Consider product launches. Saturated colors have been known to be perceived as dynamic, exiting, and happy (and even optimistic!)
When you want to simplify emotional response
This may seem strange, but if you use a wide array of colors that use dull and desaturated hues, you actually have the ability to affect more emotional responses. Anger, anxiety, calmness, fear, sadness, contentment, and many other emotions are really hard to portray with saturated colors. When you want to keep your emotional response to energy, excitement, and happiness, use saturated colors.
BUT EXERCISE CAUTION!
Too many saturated colors next to each other can cause eye fatigue, so they are really best for brief spurts of visual communication (again, like in a logo or birthday party plate). Avoid creating an entire book using saturated colors. Also, saturated colors often clash when placed with or on top of each other. Blue text on a red background (or vice versa), for example, is one of the biggest no-nos in design!