Grey Color in Design

Grey Designs, Greener Pastures

The “color” Grey is a fascinating topic. Once you crack the lid on it, it just sort of escapes like a great Grey cloud of possibilities. Web designers and graphic designers of all sorts often use Grey as an innocuous background element but Grey can be a very powerful design concept on it’s own. Furthermore, Grey is fascinating because it is one of the most environmentally friendly “colors” out there. Using Grey in interior design, print design and web design can create great moods and greener spaces.

Lee Krasner once said, “We get used to a certain kind of color or format, and it’s acceptable. And to puncture that is sticking your neck out a bit. And then pretty soon, that’s very acceptable.”

In a way this is the modern history of Grey. Grey was used primarily as a non-color for years. Grey was a hue that was relegated to utilitarian objects. Think peasant clothing, battle ships and a color that was painted on cement basement floors to hide dirt. Only with the introduction of photography and skyscrapers did the power of Grey finally take off and assert itself. From the earliest years photographers learned to capture the luxury of Grey. Grey has a velvet like quality in the prints from the 30’s and it is excellent for making color pop. Even in the first films, like those portrayed in the movie Hugo, by George Melies, Grey was used as a prominent design force against which colors gain extraordinary strength and character. Academy Award winning VFX director Rob Elgato similarly uses Grey throughout Hugo to enhance the story and draw viewers into the era of the film.

Grey in interior designGrey in interior design is one of the most ecologically friendly colors that a designer can use. This is particularly true in public spaces. Grey and variations on the theme using silver evokes a sophisticated ambiance. At the same time variations on Grey are slow to show either dirt or wear meaning that the lifespan of design features (chairs, bedding, paint, carpets) is vastly extended. Moreover, Grey requires less cleaning to appear welcoming. This removes pressure from cleaning staff and leads to overall higher impression ratings for public spaces. The Royalton, a boutique hotel in New York City, is an excellent example of the creative and ecologically minded application of Grey. Originally designed by Philippe Starck in 1988 the interior of the Royalton was completely redone by Roman and Williams in 2007. Roman and Williams expertly incorporated Grey to enhance the ambiance of both the rooms and the public spaces in the Royalton. The result is calming rather than boring, elegant rather than utilitarian. The added bonus is that it is also a Green space, something that is increasingly sought after by ecologically minded consumers.

Grey logosGrey is also ecologically and economically sound when it comes to the physical production of design elements or printed materials. Grey, especially true untinted Greys, are cheap to produce and ecologically friendly. They do not put pressure on natural resources during production like any other color. Particularly for print, where color costs can jump unexpectedly (cyan does this on a regular basis) the use of Grey gives the client and designer a increased level of control over both content and cost. Moreover, great logos, like Apple’s apple, can easily be transferred into the color of the moment making the design fresh, current and alive. When Grey is combined with excellent design, Grey has the power to move with the moment and this is incredibly valuable.

Grey in Web Design

Grey in web design is often used as a pervading accent color. Both promotional products website, Gopromotional, and London’s Gio-goi website effectively use Grey to focus a viewers attention on the products of the website rather than on the website itself.

Grey in Web Design

London’s Gio-goi website effectively use Grey to focus a viewers attention on the products of the website

The Australian website ToolHQ similarly uses Grey to make the tools in their rotating space irresistible.

The Australian website ToolHQ similarly uses Grey

Other websites such as design firm TenderCreative and theimport use Grey more pervasively throughout the entire design. The Grey color enhances and focuses viewers’ attention in a way that white or black would not.

design firm TenderCreative and theimport use Grey more pervasively throughout the entire design

The Grey color enhances and focuses viewers’ attention in a way that white or black would not.

One of the best uses of Grey as a focus color is the 2012 video design for the NAB Show. Grey in this case is interwoven throughout the rotating sphere to draw the viewers’ eye and focus into the conversion message. Without Grey the design would lack depth and clarity.

One of the best uses of Grey as a focus color is the 2012 video design for the NAB Show

Logistically speaking Grey is not always an easy color to work with in web design. Even “websafe” Greys are notorious for reading differently across screens, platforms and devices. Mainly this occurs with Greys on the lighter end of the spectrum from WS #CCCCCC (204 204 204) and lighter. Like pastels, these Greys do not read well or consistently across screens. According to PM designs due to the proliferation of flat-screens and low cost laptops it is best to avoid Greys starting with the combination of #CC or #FF including “websafe” #CCCCCC and browser recognized colors such as whitesmoke, e-paper Grey and white (#FFFFFF). All of these can generate a washed out appearance on a variety of lesser quality screens. One way around the light Grey dilemma is to add a highlight of white and then use a darker Grey ground as is seen in the ToolHQ design above.

Greys come in a variety of tinted hues that can read either warm or cold. Tinted custom Greys are the most fascinating in the Grey spectrum. By adding a small tint from a dominant color using the eyedropper Grey can take on a richer tone giving dimension to the entire design. (See Mike Cossey).

The silent power of Grey in design is everywhere once you start looking for it. From BMW print ads to Apple’s signature computers, Grey is a useful modern design element. As the year looks forward to brighter colors in everything from fashion to interior designs, expect to see more of Grey: the silent elegant workhorse.

What do you think about Grey? Please share your thoughts in the comments area.

Oleksiy is the Founder of ArtDriver. He oftentimes takes the lead as the Agile Project Manager and SEO expert on selected projects, which allows him to be hands-on with the latest trends. In his spare time, Oleksiy enjoys playing the guitar and spending time with his family.