The question of color isn’t an easy one. Unless you have a favourite color you want to force on your website, logo or promotional material, you will most likely wonder which hue best represents your business or project and how others will perceive it. Is red too aggressive, blue too common, green too zen, black too negative or white too soft? This article will explain how designers select colors and it will take a look at the main colors of the spectrum and analyze them so that you will be able to understand your choices better.
Colors carry meaning
When a designer creates a website for you, they will be influenced by the colors of your pre-existing material, such as your logo. For example, if your logo is red and blue, you will definitely want to see some red and blue in the design, as well as some other more neutral colors —like white, black, grey, beige or brown, to mention a few— to keep it all well balanced. In this particular scenario, you will have to decide if you want the blue or the red to be the prominent color. In this Polish website, they decided to use different shades of blue as a background as well as for rollover text and images. The kept the red for emphasizing some parts of the design —like the central piece with the circular icons— and some links at the bottom of the page. They also use a good amount of white that helps brighten up the design.
Could it have been done differently? Of course! Take a look at the same website with altered colors. The red was changed for green and brown. Doesn’t it give a vibe of sustainability, as in “earth, water and nature”? Thanks to a few clicks and color changes, this new design carries a very different message than its red version.
Colors can be radical and carry by themselves meaning. Let’s explore the meaning of the most used colors:
The meaning of colors
The good: Red is a powerful color usually associated with energy, life and power. It’s dynamic and it’s been said to increase enthusiasm, blood pressure as well as heartbeat. It represents love and passion. Red will get the attention of your visitors so its brightest variations should be used sparingly and with purpose.
The bad: This color is also a synonym of anger and urgency; too much of it may carry a feeling of aggressiveness or stress. In culture and history red has also been associated with blood, corruption and evil. In games and status bars, red signifies bad or danger.
Conclusion: Just remember that red is a strong color so tone it down a little if you plan on using it a lot. Its most saturated hues should be used with purpose. In excess, red can make your visitors feel uneasy (so unless that is your goal, mix it with other colors).
The good: Blue is synonym of stability, calm, trust and faith. Because it’s considered beneficial and positive, it can be found in most web designs. Associated with the sea and the sky, it’s a masculine color that, in darker shades, is used to represent power and seriousness.
The bad: Blue is extremely popular and common; notice how most social networks use blue on their websites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn…). So if you want to be different, perhaps blue shouldn’t be your first choice.
Conclusion: Blue is a great color that people have an easy time trusting. However, once more, it is quite common.
The good: Green symbolizes growth, stability, calm and nature. Brighter shades of green can be energetic and lively. Dark green represents money and banking. Websites that use green in big amounts are usually related to health, sustainability or growth. When used in games or some graphics, green is also synonym of wellness.
The bad: While most shades of green are perceived as good, darker tones can be associated with greed and yellow-green with sickness and discord.
Conclusion: Green is overall a peaceful color that means growth, health and nature. Avoid greyish and yellowish greens in excessive amounts as they can translate in sickly colors.
The good: Synonym of optimism, yellow is energetic and very spontaneous. It’s associated with joy and is an attention getter, thus used to highlight important parts of a design and/or its content. Yellow is also known to encourage communication.
The bad: Because it’s unstable, yellow can be perceived as childish and therefore shouldn’t be used selling expensive or prestigious items. Yellow cars for example usually sports car associated with speed and recklessness.
Conclusion: Yellow is the color of happiness and energy. Use it to catch people’s attention or lighten the mood but consider that by itself it’s not considered a serious color.
The good: Orange, being a combination of yellow and red, is a warm and energetic color associated with luck and joy. It’s synonym of creativity and stimulation, yet not as aggressive as red. Orange is used in design to highlight important elements and generally appeals to a younger audience.
The bad: Darker orange can convey deceit and distrust. Used in great amounts, it will take away seriousness from your designs.
Conclusion: Orange stimulates and entices creativity but can also be perceived as reckless.
The good: Purple is associated with luxury, spirituality and creativity. It’s the color of mystery and magic. It’s also considered sometimes a feminine color. Purple will do well on websites that aren’t scared to be original and extravagant. It’s also known to appeal to children.
The bad: Darker purples can evoke sadness and nostalgia. Purple isn’t very serious and should be used in small amounts well selling products to a male audience.
Conclusion: Purple is a rich color that is quite popular with women and children. Darker shades should be combined with brighter colors to avoid carrying feelings of unhappiness.
The good: Brown conveys stability, reliability and trust. It’s associated with things organic and natural. It gives a sense of orderliness to designs. Brown fits very well in backgrounds as it is non-obtrusive and subtle. It’s connected to autumn and loyalty as well.
The bad: Too much brown looks dull. Some shades of brown can also be perceived as lacking personality. That’s why it’s usually used in design with other colors instead of alone.
Conclusion: Brown is a color that will accompany well other brighter hues but that can look a tad boring by itself.
The good: White evokes purity, goodness and simplicity. It’s popular in minimalist design as it’s spacious. White is perceived as clean and organized. It’s a page’s color by default and it matches any color.
The bad: Too much white can make a website look empty and cold. This tone is also associated with sterility.
Conclusion: White is a tone that can be used with anything. It has a positive connotation but too much of it can leave your visitors with a feeling of emptiness.
The good: Black is synonym of authority and power. It’s the lack of color, as it absorbs them all. It’s perceived as sophisticated and matches very well paler and brighter colors in web design. It will give your site depth if used well.
The bad: In many cultures, black is associated with death, fear and negativity. Matched with reds or oranges, it can seem aggressive and heavy.
Conclusion: Black is an elegant and powerful color that should be used very wisely to not carry negative feelings.
The art of marrying colors
You will hardly ever see on the internet websites with only one color; they usually have a palette of 2-4 hues they stick to. A good web design will use colors with purpose to create a visual hierarchy. While some designers choose to stick to neutral (safe) colors, others will be more daring and attempt mixing saturated hues, resulting in dynamic and provocative websites. The more colors you use though, the harder it gets to make sense of all of it, so be careful. Consider the content you will have on your website and, most importantly, the purpose of it. A website created for a younger audience shouldn’t be only brown and white, and a design targeted at professionals working in the financial industry shouldn’t look like a rainbow.
Marrying colors is an art. Matching hues isn’t obvious for everyone though and that’s why there are websites like Color Scheme Designer that can help you pick the right colors for your logo, website or other promotional material.
Try it, have fun and listen to the artist within you.