Unlocking Design Harmony with Split Complementary Color Schemes

Welcome to the fascinating world of design harmony! In this blog post, we will explore the enchanting realm of split complementary color schemes, a powerful tool in the UX designer's palette. Get ready to embark on a journey that will transform the way you approach color in your designs.

Understanding Split Complementary Color Schemes

Before we dive into the practical aspects, let's grasp the fundamentals. What exactly are split complementary color schemes? This chapter will provide you with a solid foundation, explaining the theory and principles behind this unique approach to color harmony.

The Basics of Color Theory

Color theory serves as a fundamental conceptual framework within the realm of visual arts and design, offering a systematic understanding of how colors interact and can be strategically combined to achieve aesthetically pleasing and effective visual compositions. It delves into the principles that govern color relationships, exploring the psychological and emotional impact of various hues on the viewer.

As the Interaction Design Foundation states it on their website:

"Color theory is the study of how colors work together and how they affect our emotions and perceptions. It's like a toolbox for artists, designers, and creators to help them choose the right colors for their projects. Color theory enables you to pick colors that go well together and convey the right mood or message in your work."

In this article, our focus will specifically be on the split complementary color scheme, a captivating facet of color theory. This scheme involves selecting a base color and complementing it with two colors adjacent to its direct complement on the color wheel. By unraveling the intricacies of the split complementary scheme, we aim to provide insights into how designers can leverage this approach to create visually dynamic, harmonious, and captivating designs across various artistic mediums. Through a detailed exploration of this color scheme, readers will gain a deeper appreciation for the nuanced artistry involved in color selection and application within the broader context of design aesthetics.

Color theory is a conceptual framework used in visual arts and design that explains how colors interact with each other and how they can be combined to create aesthetically pleasing and effective visual compositions. In this article, we will cover the split complementeray scheme.

We will now focus on the split complementary color scheme. Although if you wish to learn more about the Color Theory, you can read this article on Wikipedia

What Sets Split Complementary Apart?

The split complementary color scheme is an extension of the complementary color scheme. In a split complementary scheme, instead of using the direct opposite (complement) of a base color, two adjacent colors to its complement are chosen. This creates a color palette that combines both contrast and harmony, offering a more nuanced and versatile option for designers.

A gradient image using split complementary colors

Applying Split Complementary Schemes in UX Design

Now that you have a solid understanding of the theory, let's get practical. This chapter will guide you through the step-by-step process of applying split complementary color schemes in your UX design projects. From selecting the right colors to implementing them seamlessly, we've got you covered.

Choosing Split Complementary Colors

To choose split complementary colors on a color wheel, start by selecting a base color, which will be the dominant hue in your design. Once the base color is chosen, find its complementary color, situated directly opposite on the color wheel; for instance, if the base color is red, the complementary color is green. Rather than using the direct complement, identify the two colors adjacent to it on the wheel – the colors on either side. In the case of red and green, these adjacent colors would be yellow-green and blue-green. This selection forms the split complementary color scheme, providing a harmonious yet contrasting palette for design applications.

A picture of a color wheel

The original uploader was Sakurambo at English Wikipedia., CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Implementing in User Interface (UI) Design using the 60-30-10 method

The 60-30-10 rule is a guideline often used in design, including color schemes, to achieve a balanced and visually appealing composition. This rule helps designers distribute colors in a way that creates harmony while providing enough variety and contrast. When applied to split complementary colors, the rule is used to allocate percentages of the color palette to different hues.

Here's how the 60-30-10 rule works in the context of split complementary colors:

Primary Color (60%): The base color, which is one of the split complementary hues, is assigned 60% of the overall color palette. This dominant color sets the tone for the design and is typically used for large areas such as the background, main elements, or the overall theme.

First Adjacent Color (30%): One of the adjacent colors to the complement of the base color is assigned 30% of the color palette. This color is used to complement and support the primary color. It can be applied to secondary elements, smaller sections, or to provide a subtle contrast.

Second Adjacent Color (10%): The other adjacent color to the complement of the base color is allocated 10% of the color palette. This color serves as an accent and is used sparingly to add pops of color or highlight specific details within the design. It brings visual interest without overpowering the overall color scheme.

If you need some more indepth content about the 60-30-10 rule, a lot of of research about it can be found online. Some of of the ressources I found interesting covering the topic are the following

Advantages and Challenges

Every design approach has its pros and cons. In this chapter, we'll delve into the advantages and potential challenges of using split complementary color schemes. Understanding both sides will empower you to make informed decisions in your design projects.

A split complementary color palette

A color palette generated on ColorLab


Balanced Contrast:The split complementary scheme offers a balanced level of contrast, providing visual interest without the intense tension associated with complementary colors.

Enhanced Visual Interest: The scheme introduces vibrant and dynamic color combinations, making the design visually interesting and engaging for the audience.

Guidance of Viewer's Attention: The use of a base color and two adjacent colors allows designers to guide the viewer's attention effectively, emphasizing key elements in the design.

Avoiding Monotony: By incorporating three distinct colors, the split complementary scheme helps prevent monotony and adds depth to the design, ensuring a more dynamic visual experience.

Reduced Eye Fatigue: Compared to highly contrasting color schemes, the split complementary scheme can be less visually fatiguing, making it suitable for designs that require extended viewer engagement.

Reduced Color Clashes: As compared to using complementary colors directly opposite each other, the split complementary scheme minimizes the risk of color clashes while maintaining a visually dynamic composition.

Challenges and Solutions

Limited Color Range: The split complementary scheme involves three main colors, which may be limiting for designers who prefer a broader range of hues in their palette.

Potential for Unbalanced Composition: Achieving the right balance among the base color and its adjacent complements can be challenging, as improper distribution may lead to an unbalanced and visually chaotic composition.

Difficulty in Finding the Right Tones: Harmonizing the tones and saturations of the three chosen colors can be tricky, and finding the right balance is crucial to avoid clashes or an overwhelming visual impact.

Difficulty in Color Balance: Balancing the visual weight of each color within the scheme can be challenging, as improper balance may draw too much attention to one color and diminish the impact of the others.


This article revolved around unlocking design harmony with split complementary color schemes, emphasizing the exploration of this color scheme in the realm of visual arts and design. We introduced the fundamental principles of color theory, shedding light on the psychological and emotional impact of colors. It then specifically delves into the intricacies of the split complementary color scheme, detailing how to choose and apply these colors in UX design projects.

The 60-30-10 rule is introduced as a guideline for allocating percentages to different hues within the split complementary scheme. Advantages of using split complementary colors, such as balanced contrast, enhanced visual interest, and guidance of viewer's attention, are highlighted. The content also addresses challenges, including limited color range, potential for unbalanced composition, difficulty in finding the right tones, and challenges in color balance, providing a comprehensive understanding of both the benefits and potential obstacles associated with this color scheme in design.

About ColorLab

ColorLab is the perfect platform for web designer, product manager, interior designer, artist, or anyone who works with colors on a daily basis. Wether you need to build a new prototype, need some inspiration for your next painting or need to figure out what colors would match for your room decoration project, we got your covered.

Our platform let you easily generate an infinity of color palette! You can choose specific color scheme or let our generator provide you any kind of matching color schemes. Additionally, we are helping you easily visualize those color in a live preview template, to better assess your decision.