• Justin Hand-Gregory

Designing Something is Actually Very Easy: The Three Color Rule


Here's what seems to be a well kept secret by designers, but something that anyone could use to instantly make any design look professional: the three color rule. The rule cannot, of course, be implemented to every single design project in the world, however, I argue that, for the majority of any design project, (which includes, but is not limited to: fashion, interior, industrial and graphic designs) this rule can apply. Also, I should mention that just because I'm saying the three color rule, does not mean that a designer should feel restricted and/or limited to selecting three colors. However, the rule has been so widely popularized, in fact, because it dictates the selection of only three colors. In other words, the rule ensures that designs do not look messy by splashing 10 or 12 different colors onto the canvas, which often happens. Or, contrastly, the design is lacking a mixture of color, for example, lecture slides, created by a professor using Powerpoint, with a white background and black text. Although the PowerPoint slides are functional, they are so very boring to look at!


The simple rule goes as follows:

  1. Select a primary color: this is the color that 'pops' the most in your design.

  2. Select a secondary color: this is the color that will be used for the smaller elements of the design.

  3. Select a third (accent) color: this will be the color you apply to all of the other small things in the design.


So, now that you know the rule, the next step is to use these colors to create a palette. A color palette is very easy to create while also, an extremely necessary and useful tool for any design. It allows you to visualize if the colors compliment each other, or not; if the colors promote the aesthetic art-direction that you are looking for; and it allows you to visualize if the primary color you selected is dominant enough to stand as a primary color, or not.


Once you have completed your color palette and the colors are working well together, you can begin to design using the colors you have selected. Some tips on how to properly implement the rule:

  • The primary color should be used for backgrounds and/or large text on the page (headings or titles).

  • The secondary color should be used for the majority of the text on the page (paragraphs, subheadings) and/or added to elements on the page, for example, the secondary color of an icon.

  • The third (accent) color should be used for icons, logos and any smaller content on the canvas.

  • Consistency is key in any design. Therefore, if you are designing more than 1 canvas (or object), be sure to use the same color palette for the entire project.

An example of the three color rule being used

Here's an example of a design that lacks the implementation of the three color rule and also, consistency.



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