The Role Of Color In Web Design: Color Wheel Web Design by Patrick Foster
Some websites appear to have been decorated arbitrarily, colors chosen at random or presented by default and never changed. Others are the results of painstaking deliberation, each color selected in accordance with its set of ascribed meanings spanning the worlds of commerce, culture, and psychology.
Neither approach is particularly sensible, though. Colors do matter, not just in how they fit in context also in the wider associations they gather, but they’re not to be obsessed over when it comes to their significance in society.
Optimizing the use of color in web design is really about internal relations: ensuring that they work together to form a cohesive style. Let’s take a closer look at the role of color in web design, factoring in the importance of the color wheel and considering how it can be used to save time:
Contrast is essential for steering attention
The density inherent to a lot of complex web pages can be a problem for the end user. We’re not great at parsing tricky layouts — we need a lot of assistance to figure out where we are, where we’re supposed to go, and how we can achieve our objectives. But it isn’t always viable to pad out pages with empty space and hugely cut down on the options.
The solution? Color contrast. Even a call-to-action lost in a sea of copy can stand out like a beacon if armed with strong color contrast. You don’t see smart retailers using subdued hues for their most important buttons. Years of A/B testing show how much of a difference it can make to swap one bold tone out for another.
When laying the groundwork for a web design, place the different elements on distinct tiers from most vital to least vital. Each tier should have a distinct shade, with the more important tiers being the boldest. Pick colors close on the color wheel for comparable segments (yellow and green, for instance), then head to the other side for highlights (perhaps a rich burgundy). Prioritize options accordingly and you’ll make life easier for your site’s visitors.
Color schemes are integral to branding
Having a quickly-recognizable brand is as valuable as ever, particularly given the ceaseless activity of social and digital media. You stand out at first glance or you get left behind. And since no brand is ever going to have a logo design so compelling that it makes everyone stop and pay attention, color choice doesn’t make or break your success — but it is an essential component.
This is because your brand associations need to be evoked somehow, and color plays a big role in reminding people of your business. Microsoft is associated with blue and gray, while Amazon is associated with orange and black. It comes down to consistency. As your business attracts more plaudits and positive buzz, your color scheme will become a positive sign showing your involvement, whether it’s used for a blog post, a printed document, or even an app.
If you start picking up some momentum with an underwhelming color scheme, you can end up in the tricky position of deciding whether to stick with the colors you have (retaining some of that momentum) or rebrand your colors (and possibly cause some confusion). It’s best to be confident about the basic colors you start with, and then, when needed, introduce some slight variants (take your three main colors and rotate slightly around the color wheel, for instance).
Every industry has associated colors
There’s much to be found online about the psychology of color schemes, with some creating exhaustive lists explaining that, for example, brown is the color of both sadness and comfort. And while the idea that colors have intrinsic universal associations is quite silly, the cultural associations are quite potent, established as they have been through years of conformity.
Because of these strong associations, it isn’t advisable to completely ignore industry context when you choose your colors. You should aim for a delicate balance, not straying too far from the colors people expect from your industry but also not staying too close to the colors of your chief competitors (you do want to stand out from them, after all).
Also consider that regions too have color preferences. White might be associated with purity in most places, but it’s also linked to mourning in some parts of the world, so be keenly aware of what will work (and what won’t) where your primary online audience resides. Do some research based on your desired location — to use a blog-appropriate example, you could get inspired by Australian businesses for sale. What colors are most common? Why do think they’re popular? And what types of imagery feature time and time again?
Using tools to speed things along
When selecting your color scheme, you can do better than sitting down with a color chart and pointing at random. You might use tools for visual design, so why not for colors too? The useful thing about the color wheel is that it allows you to automatically generate optimally-distinct color schemes, producing numerous variations on a theme in seconds. You can find numerous such tools here, so try them out — if you already have two colors in mind, you can instantly determine some complementary colors.
All the hard work in selecting color schemes comes early on. It’s all a matter of thinking ahead, factoring in regional and psychological associations, aiming for optimal contrast, and staying aware of the formats your content will need to thrive in. Once you have a good set of colors, stick with them unless you have a compelling reason to do otherwise: as your website’s popularity grows, the colors will become its signature.