Colour has another role that doesn’t rely on its symbolic associations, and this is in the field of information, where its use is as a means of making information clear and legible. In this area the originality of the idea takes second place to the visibility and immediate readability of the message.
Fire brigades use leaflet printing with bold colours in order to attract awareness about risks of not checking your smoke alarms. But because there is such a large range of colours, different hues can be used to make blocks of information distinct from the other information that surrounds them. This function is of tremendous importance in the design of such material as timetables, annual reports, leaflet printing, forms, calendars, sign systems and maps.
Most work of this nature can be read and under stood to only a small degree when produced in black and white, because the greater the complexity of columns and facts, the harder it is for people to find their way around what they are looking at and comprehend it. But by including coloured rules to separate vertical and/or horizontal columns, or coloured tints behind selected areas, or by marking out particular items in colour when leaflet printing, the designer can reduce these problems.
Colour distinctions are extremely helpful when signs are read from a distance, as are the road signs on a highway that distinguish between minor roads and highways. I find that the best way to approach complex problems of tabular design is first to conceive the initial concept in monochromatic terms and then to introduce secondary elements and colors. It is far easier to assess illegibility objectively in monochrome and then to add other colours one by one to resolve areas of poor legibility and clarity.
Another form of colour ‘signposting’ concerns shop signs. This extremely important visual element informs shoppers immediately of where to purchase their desired commodity. This is particularly important for large chain stores, such as Sainsburys, Marks and Spencer and Waitrose.
They know that as customers move around from town to town, city to city, country to country, on business or holiday, they must be able to pick out their favourite store from the inevitable sea of neon, display and billboards that surrounds any busy shopping area. The corporate colour schemes
are often designed to be bright for just this purpose.