• Live Oak Management

Put Your Colors on Mute: Why Vibrant Colors Are Out and Muted Colors Are In

By: Ben Harriton, Creative Content Producer


Gone are the days of vibrant reds, deep blues and highlighter yellow. Muted tones are in– and they’re taking the design and advertising world by storm.


Popularized by society’s transition to Zoom, muted colors allow us to stare at screens for hours on end, without feeling fatigued– and without buying useless blue-light glasses. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, graphic and UX designers have been forced to consider ocular comfort when creating digital designs for clients. Soft, natural colors keep designs simple and palatable, and encourage viewers to spend more time with a design. But, ocular comfort isn’t the only factor bringing about the shift to muted colors– designers use these tones to fit other design trends too.

Retro revival, another emerging design trend, takes advantage of soft tones. In this style, designers use muted colors to emphasize vibrant ones. Rather than have colors competing for attention, muted shades allow designers to focus viewers’ eyes on a key element of the design. The aim of this practice is for color to evoke nostalgia among a target audience.


Muted colors can add to a brand’s trustworthiness, making their target consumers more likely to use the company’s product or service. In marketing, soft tones have been used to create organic and authentic messages. A great example of muted tones can be found at Winc.com. This website welcomes potential wine-of-the-month members with muted blue and brown tones. Soft shades make the deep purple tones of the wine bottles pop, and the greyish-black typography offers a relaxing relief from pure black.


Natural tones are generally more muted than saturated, making designs with soft colors feel more relatable and less sterile. A design depicting people that utilizes less vibrant, human skin tones will be more relatable than the same design using a bright purple or blue. Relatability is key in graphic design– without this, nobody would want to look at a designer’s work.

In the example from Bootcamp, the difference in appearance between vibrant and muted tones becomes clear. The circles to the left are original tones, but to the right, they have had their saturation halved. The design still utilizes the same colors, but the muted shades allow the viewer to see all aspects of the design, rather than feel overwhelmed by the vibrancy of any one element.


Black and white are used in conjunction with muted colors to maintain a certain level of contrast. Muted colors are made by adding either white or black to an original tone. The result is a less vibrant, less saturated tint that appears more relaxed and soothes the viewer.


Current designs using vibrant colors can easily be updated to meet the muted colors trend, making it simple for designers to modernize their work.


It’s highly unlikely that bright, vibrant colors will disappear in the near future, but the emergence of muted tones is sure to revolutionize the design world. Color is an essential element of any design, and it dictates everything from emotion to brand identity. With each new color trend, it becomes increasingly clear that designers must have a firm understanding of colors and their meanings. Don’t get left in 2020, switch to muted colors now!


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