Color By Any Other Name

There are two subjects that produce that deer in headlights look with a designer: typography and color. Let's talk about color. Clients are often quite clear about color, "I hate that green. It looks like baby shit," or, "It must match the pink of the sand in The Bahamas." But designers default to the swatch palette in Adobe® Illustrator or InDesign. Ask a designer about combining purple and magenta, and you may encounter this response, "What? Whaaaat? Uhhh, Ok." Along the way some well-meaning teacher told him or her that those two colors may never be used together.


The Designer's Dictionary of Color

I recently completed a new book for Abrams to address these issues. The Designer's Dictionary of Color (or Colour in Britain) will be available in April. I wanted to write and design a book that could answer the question, does this and this work together? Or how do I convince a client avocado green is a good choice (don't call it avocado green)? And, what cultural issues exist with white in Asia? 

This also gave me the chance to find young designers who haven't been widely published. I added other visual work to help clarify the issues also so that a designer could give the book to a client. The example of Claude Monet's Waterloo Bridge, London, at Dusk might have more impact when looking at mint. Over the next few weeks I'll be providing some excerpts. If I can save one project that uses coral, I will have done my job.

From The Designer's Dictionary of Color; Sean Adams, 2017
Coral is neither pink nor peach. It is a color that exists between these. It is associated with femininity, gentleness, romance, and the tropics. These connections work to communicate the tone of an idea swiftly. A coral poster will immediately be read as positive and friendly. Coral has more sensuality than pure pink, which can feel juvenile. As the color of the interior of certain shells, and used as a prominent paint color throughout the Caribbean, coral has associations with a carefree and gentle holiday.

Cultural Meanings
Coral roses are a symbol of desire. In Buddhism, it symbolizes the energy of the life force. In China, it is a symbol of longevity. Coral is a sensitive color. If it shifts toward yellow, it will become peach, or a sickly flesh tone. A shift toward the red creates pink. Coral is also known as salmon, a term that was used in automobile color options.

Other Names
Shell Pink
Bright Rose

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/ He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.