Colors are a huge part of life. They evoke our feelings, help us remember memories, and affect our mood. Learning how to use color for your website is an effective way to generate a specific response from your users and make your website more actionable.
Georgia O'Keeffe famously said, “I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way.” This is true for us all, and you don’t have to be a famous artist to hone the power of color. All you need is an understanding of branding and color psychology. Suddenly, a whole new world of color and design will be yours to explore.
Consumers and brands alike often underestimate the power of color. Well-versed marketers know just how powerful it can be, but it's hard to put this influence into words unless you have a strong understanding of how color affects us as humans. In this guide, we’ll take a close look at the psychology behind our favorite colors, how brands have successfully used color in the past, and how you can choose a good color scheme for your own website.
Does a blue sky make you feel relaxed and calm? Does bright yellow make your heart race a bit faster? If you’ve ever experienced any of these feelings, you’re not alone. Color is a tool for communication, and it’s been used since the dawn of civilization to express influence, action, and mood.
It was in 1666 when English scientist Sir Isaac Newton first discovered that when white light passes through a prism, it separates into all of the visible colors. These visible colors don’t communicate the same things to everyone. The way you feel about certain colors is a deeply personal thing that’s derived from your own experience or culture.
However, there are some general “rules” of color that we can take from our own western history. Here are some of the most well-known associations with color that you’re probably familiar with:
These might seem like a very basic level of color understanding, and that’s because they are. The deeper symbolism behind these colors takes root throughout our history and culture, and they’re not stagnant. Colors can change meaning in different situations and throughout time.
For example, do you know the story of why purple symbolizes wealth? In fact, Queen Elizabeth I forbade anyone except the royal family from wearing purple since it had such an elite status. Hundreds of years ago, purple dye was initially incredibly expensive. In the time of the Phoenicians, the dye could only be found in a small mollusk in the Mediterranean sea. Since it was so expensive to collect, it was only used by the wealthy elite.
There’s a story just like this one behind almost all of your favorite colors. The more you understand the history of colors, the better equipped you are to use these colors to your advantage.
As you’ve probably realized, we’ve come a long way from purple only symbolizing wealth. Colors have become complex entities, and now they’re a tool used by marketers and designers to create branding that resonates with audiences.
To understand how companies utilize color today, let’s look at some of the most well-known brands and the colors behind their logos and designs.
Red - When it comes to marketing, red is said to trigger stimulation and appetite. It’s also commonly used in clearance sales since it’s known to call your attention. Red has even shown to raise the human heart rate measurably when they see it. Red brands: Frito Lay, Nintendo, Netflix, ESPN, Coca-Cola, and Lego.
Blue - Blue in marketing is used to symbolize professionalism and strength. It’s a favorite color for a lot of people, so it’s often used to demonstrate trust. Blue brands: Facebook, Visa, Samsung, AT&T
Yellow - Yellow is all about optimism and happiness. It’s great at grabbing users’ attention, so it’s commonly used for fast food brands. Yellow brands: McDonald's, Snapchat, Subway, IKEA.
Green - Green has recently been used to show eco-friendly brands, but it’s also used to convey growth with financial wellness. Green is related to health, relaxation, and productivity. Green brands: Starbucks, Excel, Holiday Inn, Heineken, and Land Rover.
Purple - Purple has come a long way, but it still does symbolize royalty as well as wisdom and success. This is why it’s usually used for luxury brands. Purple brands: Crown Royal, Qatar Airways, Hallmark, and Cadbury.
Black - Black as a color has also developed from its original “evil” symbolism. Today, it conveys professionalism and relates to intelligence and authority. Brands use black to maintain simplicity or to show a luxurious quality. Black brands: Amazon, Disney, Chanel, Nestle, Gucci, Hermes.
Multi-Color - Finally, sometimes brands use a few colors to show their diversity and to stand out from other brands. These are often used by internet-based companies or global brands that want to show connectedness. Multi-color Brands: Windows, Google, NBC, eBay, the Olympics.
How did you feel reading through these lists of brands? If you’re like most people, you likely understood the connection just by your current feelings about these brands. These brands have been crafted by expert marketers who use colors to tell their story.
With your website, you want it to tell the story of your brand, but you need to do that in a simplified way that doesn’t get in the way of the user experience. It takes users a startling 50 milliseconds to form an opinion about your website. That’s less than a second to make an impact.
Go through these steps below to make sure you’re choosing the right colors for your website.
Step 1: Choose Your Dominant color
First, you need to choose your dominant color. This is your brand color, and it’s how you’re going to create a design you love. Remember all of those words and emotions associated with the colors we listed below? Refer to your list and decide which color most closely relates to your brand.
This is the color your audience will remember most when they visit your website. If you’re trying to show that you’re eco-friendly or growth-driven, go with green. If you’re a calming, thoughtful brand, go with blue, and so on. If you already have a logo, make sure this color is complementary or the same.
Step 2: Consider Your Audience
Next, consider your audience and what colors they’ll prefer. Remember how we said our perception of color will depend on our history and culture? This is very relevant if you’re trying to address a specific group of people.
While all genders can like all colors, it’s true that some colors and shades speak to one gender more. The same goes for age. Keep your target audience in mind to make sure your colors speak to them. Here’s a simple guide to help:
Step 3: Where to Use Your Dominant Color
Now, it’s time to utilize your dominant color. You want this color to attract attention, but not too much attention. We’ve all visited websites that had too much color, and it can be confusing to know where to even look. Try to use your dominant color in a limited number of places, especially where you want users to take action.
The best places to use your dominant color are in the logo, menu tabs, calls to action, and when highlighting important information. They’re also useful for titles and buttons.
Step 4: Choosing and Using Your Accent Colors
Your website would be boring if you only had one color. If you want your website to appear professional, you need accent colors. This is the scary part since mixing colors can be complicated.
When in doubt, limit yourself to 1 or 2 accent colors. Too many colors can be overwhelming. Your accent color might be the same color but in a different shade, like choosing a maroon when you already have red as your dominant color. It might also be a neutral that complements your current color. You might even bring in an entirely new color that means something to your brand.
Where should you use your accent color? Use it in subtle places like in the current menu tab, subtitles, and to highlight secondary information.
Step 5: Tie It Together
Last but not least, it’s time to tie it all together. Now that you know what colors are right for your website, it’s time to create a stylish website that works for your business.
Start by building a website or finding a premium theme that matches your design aesthetic. From there, customize any elements to make sure the right colors are pulling through.
Consider any extras that incorporate your colors as well like graphics, images, and more. These are the things that tie the entire look together. To finish the process, take a look at your completed website. How does it make you feel? It can help to bring in some extra sets of eyes.
Creating a website is about more than throwing different colors on the page. In fact, color is one of the most complex parts of the design process. Not only does it take some understanding of colors to know which look good together, but you also need to know the meaning behind the colors you use.
You can experience this for yourself the next time you go shopping. Take a look at the different brands offered for a specific product. How do these brands make you feel? It’s this same effect you’re trying to achieve with your website.
The right colors come from your audience and the meanings behind these colors, not just what colors you prefer. If you put your audience first, you’ll create the best color scheme for your website in no time.