Color Boards 101

Simply put, color boards are the adult version of science fair projects. Instead of huge, tri-fold displays on how different fertilizers affect corn production or the life span of a typical house fly, color boards are windows into the creativity of a designer. They help confirm your ingenuity and talents and show that your design education was actually put to good use. After all, you did learn how to NOT eat the glue – but actually use it – and to cut out squares with those dull, left-handed scissors. Oh, the things you learn in kindergarten…

Here’s how a design board works: find something that inspires you and work around it. A piece of fabric or carpet typically work well, but in some cases you find yourself working with existing artwork, a chandelier that reminds you of your Grandma or a 13-foot replica of the statue of Buddha. In that case, you need to use all of your creative juices to make it flow. Once you have your muse, the rest will usually fall into place. Pages upon pages of light fixtures, coordinating bar stools and parades of paint chips will be scattered across the table; while it may look like the bedroom of a 5 year old to passersby, to you it makes perfect sense. Your job as a designer is to “make it work” (in the words of fashion advisor Tim Gunn, for those avid fans of Project Runway).

Now for the easy stuff: cutting, gluing, trimming, arranging, cursing, sweating, re-arranging and more re-arranging. Make sure your picture edges are neatly trimmed, and that you’ve wiped away any hot glue strings that seem to stick like cobwebs to EVERYTHING. Did I mention re-arranging? Getting the right balance of negative space between images is key to a successful color board and it’s much easier to obtain that balance when things aren’t glued down. You usually have about 45 seconds before the glue is really affixed to the board. Any longer than that and you’ll need a new board.. and maybe a cocktail.

That’s it! You’re done! Stand back and marvel in your accomplishments. Make sure to unplug the hot glue gun and put Band-Aids on those paper cuts; you’ve earned them. I realize this isn’t the only way to put a color board together and each designer will have a different method to their madness. As of late I’ve done quite a few “digital” color boards, which has an entirely different set of rules and is often less messy (although no less complicated). I’ll save Digital Color Boards 101 for another time.