Using color intentionally in website design is critical; colors evoke meaning and emotion, often at a subconscious level. When used strategically, color is a powerful tool for communicating a brand's message and creating brand recognition.
Color selection in website design comes down to more than just aesthetics. In order to create an effective color palette for a website, it's important to first understand color theory, psychology, and harmony. From there, you can create a palette that aligns with the brand's values, messaging, and target market.
In this post, we'll teach you how to use color to create impactful, high-value websites for your clients. If you prefer to consume content in video form, watch the video below for a ten minute lesson on using color in website design with Ran Segall, Flux Academy's founder.
1. Consider cultural context
Although different colors have different meanings on an individual level, certain colors also have deep-rooted cultural significance. For instance, in Western cultures, red is an attention-grabbing color that signifies danger and urgency (think stop signs). However in some Eastern cultures, like China and India, red represents luck. As another example, black is the color of death and mourning in Western cultures. In some Eastern cultures, the analogous color is white.
As the above examples illustrate, context is critical in color section. Depending on where a brand's target market is based, the colors used on its website could send a very different message. So how do you know which colors to include or avoid based on a client's target market? A simple Google search should do the trick.
If a brand has a global target market, consider avoiding colors like red that have deep cultural significance. Since cultural color meanings are so ingrained in our psyche, we may not consciously realize that we're averse to certain colors. Of course, there are some exceptions. The Coca-Cola Company is known universally for its signature red brand color. In this case, the recognition associated with the brand color is powerful enough to overshadow any negative connotations associated with the color red in Western society.
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2. Understand color theory
Color theory is a set of fundamental principles that govern how to create harmonious color combinations. Understanding these principles is an important first step in creating effective color palettes for brands and websites.
The color wheel
A great tool for understanding the basics of color theory is the color wheel. We've all seen a color wheel before in some variation or another, but for the purposes of this post, we'll use it to examine primary, secondary, and tertiary colors.
The three primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. When combined, primary colors form secondary colors.
The secondary colors are purple (red + blue), green (blue + yellow), and orange (red + yellow). Combining secondary colors with primary colors creates tertiary colors.
The tertiary colors are combinations of primary and secondary colors (i.e. red-purple, yellow-orange, blue-green, etc.)
Tints, shades, and tones
Primary, secondary, and tertiary colors are considered pure colors. They are saturated, vivid, and cheerful. Tints are the addition of white to pure colors. This creates lighter, less intense colors. Shades are created with the addition of black to pure colors. Finally, adding black and white to pure colors creates tones. Tones are more subdued than pure colors.
Now that you understand how different colors are formed and arranged on the color wheel, it'll be easier to create visually appealing color palettes. Color palettes are covered in more detail below in Step 4.
Another important color theory principle concerns the use of contrast. The higher the contrast, the more two colors stand out from one another.
When evaluating contrast, it's important to consider not just the colors (i.e. blue and green), but also their tone. Two different colors with an even tone don't create high contrast. An easy trick for determining the contrast level of two colors is to convert them to grayscale--the difference in contrast will be much more apparent.
Generally, we want to use colors with high contrast in website design because of greater legibility. For instance, white text on a dark background, or vice versa. Contrast draws attention and can make certain important elements stand out visually. However, too much color contrast on a website can wear out our eyes. The below website is a good example of how to balance high and low contrast in web design.
Check out this post to learn more about color theory and how to apply it in website design.
3. Use color psychology to communicate brand messaging and values
Color psychology refers to the influence of color on our feelings, emotions, and behaviors. Although it's a bit subjective, color psychology can help us subconsciously influence people who visit our website in meaningful ways. This makes it a powerful tool for design and marketing.
Colors spark emotions
People are drawn to certain colors in part because of how they make them feel. On the flip side, colors can also cause a gut reaction that would lead someone to avoid associating with them. If this is sounding a bit vague, it's because we're missing a crucial piece of the puzzle: context. In a certain context, red might cause us to feel fear and anxiety. In another, it could incite passion and excitement.
If you want to use color in website design to convey a certain emotion, it needs to integrate seamlessly with other the elements on the page, such as typography, imagery, and copy. With that caveat in mind, let's review some of the most common associations between color and emotion.
Common color associations
The below color associations can be used as a reference guide as you consider which colors would best represent a particular brand. How should the target audience feel when they encounter the brand's website? What actions should they take? With the right context, color could make the difference between an engaged potential customer and a disinterested passerby.
- Red: passion, power, love, danger, excitement
- Blue: calm, trust, competence, peace, logic, reliability
- Green: health, nature, abundance, prosperity
- Yellow: happiness, optimism, creativity, friendliness
- Orange: fun, freedom, warmth, comfort, playfulness
- Purple: luxury, mystery, sophistication, loyalty, creativity
- Pink: nurturing, gentleness, sincerity, warmth
- Brown: nature, security, protection, support
- Black: elegance, power, control, sophistication, depression
- White: purity, peace, clarity, cleanliness
Check out this post to learn more about the psychology of color.
4. Create a color palette
Now that you have a better understanding of color theory and psychology, you're well-equipped to create an intentional color palette for your client's website. The first color you choose should be the brand's primary color. Not to be confused with primary colors in the color wheel, in this case "primary color" refers to the main color in a palette. This is where color psychology really comes in handy. Below are some examples of brands that effectively used color psychology to select their primary brand color.
To reiterate on an earlier example, The Coca-Cola Company is a brand who took their primary color, a vibrant red, and ran with it. The color is all over their website and advertising. The only other colors in their palette are black and white, which are used for text. Red associates Coca-Cola with feelings of excitement, love, and warmth.
Whole Foods uses an earthy green as their primary color. Like Coca-Cola, Whole Foods displays their signature color all over their website. Green ties in nicely with Whole Foods' values and clientele: health, nature, and abundance.
Lowe's is a popular home improvement chain whose primary brand color is a deep blue. Due to the nature of their products, it's important that the Lowe's brand and website convey trust, competence, and reliability, all of which are associated with the color blue.
Color palette types
There are five main types of color palettes: analogous, monochromatic, triad, complementary, and split complementary. Any of these can be used to creative an effective color palette for a website. Below we'll look at some examples of how each of these color palette types are used in website design.
Analogous colors are colors that sit next to each other on the color wheel. This type of palette can look very beautiful because the colors fit together so nicely. However, the effect could be too subtle, preventing any elements from standing out enough.
Monochromatic color palettes are based on a single color paired with various shades and tints. Like analogous palettes, monochromatic palettes can be very pleasing to look at. However, it's a good idea to add a complementary color to a monochromatic palette in web design in order to draw attention to important elements.
Triad color palettes consist of three colors that are evenly spaced apart on the color wheel, forming a triangle. This type of color palette is a bit risky to use in website design because it can appear noisy. However, depending on context, triad color palettes can be very effective for youthful, playful, and/or artistic brands.
Complementary color palettes contain colors on opposite ends of the color wheel. These palettes are very effective for web design because they create visual balance and tension. If the colors are used equally however, the tension can be too high. Instead, choose one of the complementary colors as the primary brand color, and use the other as an accent color.
Split complementary color palettes are similar to complementary palettes but with a third color thrown in that's next to one of the complementary colors on the color wheel. This type of color palette is also very effective in website design and can add more visual excitement without creating too much noise.
How to use color palettes in website design
There are various online tools you can use to aid in the process of creating color palettes. A personal favorite, demonstrated in the screenshots above, is Adobe Color. With this tool, you can play around with the color wheel to create a custom palette with any of the five color palette types listed above. You can also upload an image to extract colors from, or click on the Explore tab to peruse pages and pages of color palettes.
To start, I recommend choosing three colors for your palette: a main (or primary) color, secondary color, and accent color. Then, use the 60/30/10 rule to apply these colors in your website design. According to this rule, 60% of the color used should be the main color, 30% the secondary color, and 10% the accent color. Keep in mind, black and white count as colors, too. Below are some examples of stunning websites that incorporate the 60/30/10 color rule.
Spendesk uses purple as their main color, white as their secondary color, and teal as their accent color.
Greenlist uses green as their main color, white as their secondary color, and pink as their accent color.
Demuxed uses yellow as their main color, black as their secondary color, and white as their accent color.
An important note about the 60/30/10 rule is that it's really more of a guideline than a rule. For example, you may wish to incorporate more than three colors in your palette. The main takeaway is to focus on the primary color and use other colors to divide elements, create contrast, and highlight important features.
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How should you use color on your website? ›
- Get to know color psychology basics.
- Acquaint yourself with color theory.
- Think about mixing color combinations.
- Keep it simple.
- Contrast your colors.
- Integrate your branding.
What is the 60-30-10 Rule? It's a classic decor rule that helps create a color palette for a space. It states that 60% of the room should be a dominant color, 30% should be the secondary color or texture and the last 10% should be an accent.How important is appropriate color in web design? ›
Along with a well designed user-interface, helping visitors to navigate through the site is one key role colour plays, guiding them through the site content easily and quickly. Colour also helps towards building a content hierarchy, focusing attention on key information and calls to action.What are some effective ways color can be used in designs? ›
Color is used to attract attention, group related elements, convey meaning, and generally enhance the aesthetics of your site. It can be used to organize your elements and create a visual hierarchy in your design. A small dose of color that contrasts with your main color will draw attention. It will give emphasis.What colors are best for website design? ›
- Blue: the most versatile and universally liked. ...
- Purple: creativity, wisdom and confidence. ...
- Pink: creativity and exuberance. ...
- Brown: wholesomeness, warmth and honesty. ...
- Black: modernity, sleek, neutral. ...
- White: minimalism, transparency. ...
- Gray: maturity, authority.
Overall, the blue color scheme was perceived as most trustworthy and black as least trustworthy.How do you coordinate colors? ›
- Leverage the Color Wheel. ...
- Contrast With Complementary Colors. ...
- Add Nuance With Related Colors. ...
- Determine Your Accent Colors. ...
- Decide Color Placement. ...
- Apply the 60-30-10 Rule. ...
- Avoid Overcomplicating Your Design. ...
- Consider the Flooring in Your Space.
The rule of 3 colors is simple: pick one primary color. Then, pick two other complementary colors. See the example below. We picked a main hue (a variation red), and complemented it with two different colors.What is the dominant color? ›
Dominant color is achieved when one color serves as the focal point in a photo. The color expresses more intensity among other colors in the picture. This type of photo tends to instantly catch the attention of the viewer.Why color is a powerful tool in designing? ›
Color affects the perception of form and the dimensions and qualities of interior space. Color impacts how we feel and how we behave, so color is a powerful tool for an interior designer when making the choices for a particular environment.
How Does color Affect Web design? ›
Speaking of calls to action, the way you combine colors can affect how visitors behave on your site. Bright colors such as orange, green, and red typically get the most clicks, but depending on your website's color scheme, a different color may offer better contrast — a crucial element in getting users' attention.Why does color matter in design? ›
The importance of color design stems from the significance of color to the human mind. Color creates ideas, expresses messages, spark interest, and generate certain emotions. Some colors hold a universal significance- for example, it is commonly understood that red is a color for warning and green is means go.How is color used effectively in graphic design? ›
When creating a graphic design work with colors, make sure that you present a contrast between text and background colors. This ensures legibility of the text, which is important to convey your business message effectively. The contrast should be presented between darkness and lightness of the colors.How do you apply colors in design? ›
Select the object or text you want to change. If the Color panel is not displayed, choose Window > Color. Select the Fill box or the Stroke box in the Color panel. If you selected a text frame, select the Container box or Text box to change the color of either the fill or text within the frame.How do you balance colors in design? ›
For a balanced color arrangement, there should be a dominant color temperature. This will cause attention to go to the subordinate color, as it will stand out in the dominant field. An overall cool color temperature can be balanced by a small area of warm or vice versa.How many colors should be used in a website? ›
To start, I recommend choosing three colors for your palette: a main (or primary) color, secondary color, and accent color. Then, use the 60/30/10 rule to apply these colors in your website design. According to this rule, 60% of the color used should be the main color, 30% the secondary color, and 10% the accent color.Which Colour is most effective for web design when not overused? ›
Blue is safe. The safest color scheme is blue. Any shade of blue works, and any combination of blue in the color scheme is effective.Why is color scheme important? ›
A color scheme is one of the first elements to communicate the message behind the design on both visual and psychological levels. In fact, the color scheme is one of the most important elements; this is because, when used correctly, color can reflect the niche and even the overall business marketing strategy.Which colors attract more attention? ›
Red is the color of power. It gets people's attention and holds it. It is the most popular color for marketing. The color red tends to increase the heart rate and create a sense of urgency.What colours attract customers? ›
Red is the color of power. It gets people's attention and it holds it, which is why it's the most popular color for marketing. The word SALE is always red, and you'll often find red a common tie color for professionals. When you want to be viewed as trustworthy and cool, blue is the color for you.
What color represents quality? ›
Purple. When most people think of purple they think of Cadbury, the color symbolizes quality, luxury and royalty.What 3 colors go well together? ›
Sets of 3 colors that go great together
Yellow, red, and blue. Green, orange, and purple. Teal, magenta, and gold.
How to Apply a Color Palette to Your Design – Tutorial - YouTubeWhat are the 7 basic color schemes? ›
- Monochromatic. A monochromatic color scheme uses all variations of a single hue. ...
- Complementary. A complementary color scheme is made up of colors opposite to one another on the color wheel. ...
- Split complementary. ...
- Achromatic. ...
- Analogous. ...
- Triadic. ...
The underlying premise of the three colour rule is to not combine more than three colours in your outfit at any one time. The exception being black and white, which are technically not 'colours' but tones, and can be intermixed as a fourth colour in your outfit.How do I learn my color palette? ›
Use the veins on your wrist to tell if you have cool or warm undertones. Lift your wrist to eye-level in natural light and inspect your veins on the inside of your wrist. If your veins look green or greenish-blue, your skin has warm undertones. If the veins look blue or purple, you have cool undertones.What color catches the eye first? ›
On the other hand, since yellow is the most visible color of all the colors, it is the first color that the human eye notices. Use it to get attention, such as a yellow sign with black text, or as an accent.What color is the easiest on the eyes? ›
That being said, yellow and green, which are at the top of the visible spectrum bell curve, are easiest for our eyes to see and process.What are color symbolic codes? ›
Media producers use colour to specifically connect connotations to specific scenes, characters or objects. Red, for instance, is typically seen as a colour of passion, danger, romance, or violence. Green is connected with nature or sickness, blue with calm or depression. Yellow is warm and inviting or a warning.What website colors attract the most? ›
Peter Koenig and his fellow researchers found that the axis of Red-Green color contrast plays the largest role in attracting our overt attention in natural scenes, while the effects of a Blue-Yellow color contrast are much less influential.
How many colors should a website have? ›
Most brands have 1 or 2 main colors found in their logo, while most websites will need 4 to 5. This does not mean they have to be different colors.Why is it important to use the correct color system for your end product? ›
It can trigger thoughts, feelings, and emotions about your product; and, directly impact the purchasing decision. That's because 85% of consumers buy products based on colour. This makes picking the right colour or colours for packaging all the more important.Which color draws the most attention? ›
Red is the color of power. It gets people's attention and holds it. It is the most popular color for marketing. The color red tends to increase the heart rate and create a sense of urgency.Which colour is most effective for web design when not overused? ›
Blue is safe. The safest color scheme is blue. Any shade of blue works, and any combination of blue in the color scheme is effective.What are the 3 most attractive colors? ›
Thus, the most attractive color is blue, the second most preferred is red, followed by green, while yellow was found to be the least preferred color (Figure 1).What color catches the eye first? ›
On the other hand, since yellow is the most visible color of all the colors, it is the first color that the human eye notices. Use it to get attention, such as a yellow sign with black text, or as an accent.How many colors should you use in design? ›
Limit your palette to three colors.
That's because there are so many colors! All the colors are competing for your attention. The same is true in your designs. Less is more.
You can use the color picker or eyedropper tool in Photoshop (or most photo editing and illustration tools) to hand select colors from an image or simply use a color palette generator. All you need to do is upload a photo and it'll give you a custom color palette in seconds.Why is color matching important? ›
Colors are perceived differently from person to person, both technically and from an emotional standpoint. This is why color matching is so important. The human eye has three receptors. Each of these receptors is sensitive to a colored light: red light, green light, and blue light.Why is color important in product design? ›
In design, the color act as a key function that grabs the attention of the user. Color is the easiest aspect to remember when come to encountering new things for the users. The colors of the design always make connection with branding of the product.
Why is color an important attribute of image? ›
Use color to enhance meaning
Because the eyes are attracted to bright and high-contrast colors, viewers will derive meaning from something that stands out. When you use color for emphasis, it's like shouting that this object or element has the greatest value.
To combine colors, artists and designers often use a tool called color wheel. A color wheel. There are a few ways you can use the science of color theory to combine different colors for your designs. Analogous Color Palette: For this combination, you pick up a color from the color wheel.What is the most visually appealing color? ›
By knowing that red and yellow are the most visually attention-grabbing colors, you might design a better billboard. Knowing that blue signifies knowledge may help decide the color of a library's logo.