A recet article in Boxes and Arrows by Luke Wroblewski illustrates a technique for deriving color palettes from nature. This isn’t a novel idea but it’s nice to see it getting some attention. We need to bring the living, breathing world into our work as much as possible. Color is certainly a place to make that happen.
Perhaps no other design element has as much influence on how we feel in a space (a website, a home, etc.) as color. Colors can instantaneously change our moods and alter our opinions. They can make us comfortable, put us in a state of awe, or get us excited. In the case of interface design, color combinations found in nature are especially useful. From complex web applications to informative “brochure-ware” sites, naturally occurring color combinations have the potential to distinguish (by helping create a more memorable website), guide (by allowing users to focus on interactions), engage (by making page layouts comfortable and more inviting), and inspire (by offering new ideas for color selection).
This technique is no substitute for a thorough understanding of color theory. Upon further exploration I think you’ll find that nature does a pretty good job of defining and illustrating certain areas of color theory.