Contrast allows a photographer – or, in our case, a presenter – to manipulate the eye of the audience quickly. We immediately notice contrast. Our eye is trained for it! We immediately focus on that difference, that dominant element. In the image below, where does your eye go first?
Of course, we first see the blue window because our eyes gravitate toward the “difference.” The blue window pops out at us. But contrast is more than color. Garr Reynolds writes, “If one item in a design is clearly dominant, this helps the viewer ‘get’ the point of the design. Every good design has a strong and clear focal point and having a clear contrast among elements (with one being clearly dominant) helps. If all items in a design are of equal weight, with nothing being clearly dominant, it is difficult for the viewer to know were to begin” (Source). Contrast can mean color, shape, size, location (proximity), and shade.
In slide:ology, Nancy Duarte explains that contrast establishes relationships between elements (Source). These relationships should make sense to the audience quickly, easily, and purposefully. Duarte goes on to say that using contrast in slide design depends on your purpose. You must know your purpose, and your audience must understand your purpose through the type of contrast you use (Source).
In this way, contrast relies heavily on the principle of glance media. Advertisers know this principle well. The glance media rule says that audiences should be able to look at a visual presentation and understand exactly what that visual is trying to communicate in three seconds or less. Contrast helps audiences understand, and good contrast helps a slide become more like glance media and less like a death-by-bulletpoint nightmare.
Ryan of Duarte Designs gives some quick suggestions about creating great contrast with color in your next presentation:
Check out these 23 examples of beautiful contrast in photography.