Written by Hirsch Fishman
Color is an important element web designers need to think about when creating the look of a website. Different colors have different meanings – cultural, instinctual, universal, and more – and can stimulate different people in different ways.
Visitors might not notice the impact that using the right colors can have (although they might if the colors break the mold, so to speak), but trust me when I say that they will definitely notice when the wrong ones are used.
Choosing colors for a website is more than just a matter of personal preference – the choices really do matter. There is a good deal of psychology that goes into making color choices that convey the right message about your business or organization.
I’m not saying that web designers should over-analyze their color choices. But they do need to keep in mind that this aspect of design can have a big impact on the website as a whole. Web designers want to make the right recommendations to a client because ultimately, you want to give them the best website possible.
To show you what I mean by all this, I’d like to look at the meanings that colors have, before giving you examples of what types of websites those colors are most often found on.
Warm colors in their pure shades tend to have an exciting and energetic effect on the viewer. But when used alone they can over-stimulate, so they are often mixed with cool or neutral colors to balance this.
Red is the color of fire and blood, and symbolizes strong and intense emotions such as war, danger, strength, power, determination, passion, desire, and love.
A lot of political organizations use darker reds on their websites, while sports teams use varying shades of reds. Charitable organizations and those websites targeted towards women use pinks.
Orange is an energetic color and symbolizes emotions such as joy, sunshine, enthusiasm, fascination, happiness, creativity, determination, attraction, success, encouragement, and stimulation.
Orange is also found on a lot of sports team websites because of its energetic meanings. It’s also used on websites relating to food and nutrition, as well as those targeted towards young kids and teens. Some of its lighter shades are used on hotel, spa, and travel websites to symbolize relaxation and the calming qualities of those destinations, while gold is often used by financial and academic institutions.
Yellow is the color of sunshine and most often symbolizes joy, happiness, intellect, and energy.
Because it is the most difficult color on the eyes, yellow is only used for very specific purposes and is not a color seen frequently as a dominant color. It is often used on websites to promote children’s products and health and wellness, as well as more whimsical websites.
Cool colors tend to have a calming effect on the viewer, which is why they are the most common colors found on websites. Web designers need to be careful not to overuse them, because when they’re used alone, these colors can have a cold or impersonal feel.
Green is the color of nature and symbolizes growth, harmony, freshness, fertility, stability, endurance, and safety.
Green is often used to indicate safety when advertising drugs and medical products. And since it is directly related to nature, all of its shades can be used to promote natural or environmentally-friendly products and organizations. Dark green is found on websites related to the money and finance.
Blue is the color of the sky and sea, so it symbolizes depth, stability, trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, faith, truth, heaven, tranquility, calmness, and sincerity.
Blue can be used across a large variety of websites. It’s a preferred color for corporate America, so you’ll find it a lot on big company websites. The communications and web industries use medium shades of blue because it can seem high-tech, especially when combined with shades of gray. It can also be found on websites related to cleanliness (water purification filters, cleaning liquids, vodka), air and sky (airlines, airports, air conditioners), and water and sea (sea voyages, mineral water).
Lighter shades of blue are often used to promote health and wellness, travel, and relaxation, while darker shades are often used by political and patriotic organizations, legal firms, and sports teams.
Purple symbolizes royalty, power, nobility, luxury, ambition, wealth, extravagance, wisdom, dignity, independence, creativity, and mystery.
Purple is more often associated with websites geared towards women and even children’s products. Its lighter shades can be used by spas geared towards women, as well as health and wellness websites. Academic institutions will often use medium shades of purple because of its many qualities related to intellectual thought and achievement.
Neutral colors are great to mix with cool or warm colors, and are often used to tone down the more overpowering characteristics of those colors.
Grey symbolizes security, reliability, intelligence, staid, modesty, dignity, maturity, solid, conservative, practical, old age, sadness, boring, practicality, professional, sophisticated, durability, quality, quiet, conservativeness, gloominess, and sadness.
Grays and silvers are some of the most common colors used on websites because they symbolize such a broad range of emotions. They are safe colors, and when used in combination with other colors, can create a high-tech and modern look. Silver also works well when combined with gold and white to promote a feeling of control and power, so it’s not surprising that it would be used by websites that are legal or finance related.
Black symbolizes many different emotions, such as protection, power, sexuality, sophistication, formality, elegance, classy, wealth, mystery, fear, evil, depth, style, modern, space, high quality, dramatic, authority, prestige, grief, reliability, classic, strength, and serious.
You’ll see black on a wide range of websites, particularly those that want to convey a sense of luxury, sophistication, and elegance – car companies and professional products, for example. Music-related websites also feature a lot of black, since it can be seen as cutting-edge and particularly attractive to a youth market.
Brown is a comforting color and symbolizes a wide range of emotions, such as friendships, earth, hearth, home, outdoors, reliability, credibility, comfort, endurance, stability, simplicity, longevity, intimacy, tranquility, masculine, nurturing, contentment, strength, passivity, fertility, generosity, practicality, and hard work.
Brown is found on a variety of websites. Men find brown particularly appealing, so darker shades are used on websites for sophisticated and professional products. Lighter browns are often used to connote neatness and openness, while medium browns can be used on websites relating to nature, food, and agricultural products.
Now that you know how colors can influence the message being conveyed by a website, I hope you have a better sense that what web designers do is a much more involved process than it seems. There is a great deal of psychology that goes into designing a great website, and the color choices are just one example of that.
Because the topic of color is so broad, I’ve decided to break up my thoughts on it across multiple posts. Next up: the role that color contrast can have on website usability.