There’s more to websites than just images and text. A website is a marketing tool, representing the company, owner, employees and products. Beyond that, it is a personality. A website is a personality? Yes. It portrays a positive or negative symbolism and/or emotion.
In a face-to-face meeting our bodies and faces portray unspoken meanings. We smile, gesture, laugh, and become nervous. It’s these little nuances that help us communicate. A website does exactly the same thing. The difference is: a website does it with color. Colors themselves contain a cornucopia of meaning. They can make us happy, sad, angry, comfortable, nervous, and even trusting. While it seems simple enough to choose a graphic and then design a site around that graphic, you may unintentionally be presenting a derogatory impression. The colors may contradict the content in unintended ways.
Colors and their meanings
Green and white work well together, but in Japan a white carnation signifies death and a green hat in China means a man’s wife is cheating on him. A green hat with a white carnation in the brim wouldn’t be a good choice for a company logo. However, green is the easiest color on the eye; it has a calming effect which is why it is most used in hospitals. It relaxes the patients. Different shades of green have different meanings: yellow-greens are the least preferred colors by consumers.
Red has been shown to increase blood pressure and heart rate. People working in a red environment work faster, but they also make more mistakes. It increases appetite, restlessness and nervous tension. Creating a site with bright red and bright blue is a very poor idea! Bright red has the longest wavelength and bright blue has the shortest. When viewing these colors the human lens has to adjust to focus, and it tries to focus on both. This tires the eyes very quickly and will give the viewer a headache.
Websites that contain different shades of blue, or a blue and white combination tend to be more popular. Why? Blue represents calm, stability, hope, wisdom and generosity. People inherently trust blue websites faster. Add blue text and people will retain more information from your site. Combine blue, purple, and white and you have nobility.
Thankfully you do not see many yellow sites. While yellow can increase concentration, it is the hardest on the eyes. Paint a room yellow and you will make babies cry and adults lose their temper. Yellow is a very spiritual color and eye catching. Used in small amounts it is very inviting, cheerful and the number one attention getter. Forget blinking animations, just use a small, nicely designed yellow graphic.
Let’s talk orange for a minute. As a fruit, I love it. As a color, I don’t love it. It always reminds me of Jell-O and that reminds me that the EEG of Jell-O is the same as the human brain. Orange does have its pluses though. It tends to make more expensive products seem affordable and suitable for everyone, almost like a natural sales pitch. Brighter orange is hard on the eyes and is not recommended for text or background images. Small amounts of bright orange can help create a “fun and interesting” site.
Action and Reaction
Color affects how we feel, our perceptions, and our interactions. A visitor has already made a conscious choice to visit your site, now you have to keep his or her interest. You have between 8 to 10 seconds to visually appeal to the surfer. Through color you can make a surfer feel welcome, comfortable, relaxed, and trusting. If you take existing graphics on a site and change the color you change the way the site is perceived, thus changing a person’s reaction.
Taking a water-based product and placing it on a purple or orange site decreases marketability. Purple and orange are not immediately associated with water or nature and will give the site and product a “false” impression. Placing that same product on a blue or green site will increase the desire for that product. While we naturally associate water with the colors blue and green, not all site designs adhere to this thought process. Sites that are nature related receive better responses when multiple colors of green are used then any other color or combination.
Multi-colored sites, or “rainbow sites”, have the lowest visitation time. This is not the case if the site is predominantly white, while displaying only small amounts of various colors. As the multiple colors decrease, the time of visitation increases. Sites aimed at children, such as toy sites, often use a wide range of color to “entertain” the visitor. While this is smart marketing, displaying large quantities of multiple colors decreases the “fun” aspect as the eye tries to focus and concentrate on the overly busy page. A smart rule of thumb when using multiple colors: do not use more than 5 colors, keep them either “warm” or “cool”, and make the background white. Fun is more fun when it is easy on the eyes.
Warm and Cool Colors
Warm colors are based on yellows, oranges, browns, yellow-greens, and orange-reds, colors commonly associated with fall or autumn. Generally, warm colors tend to be more exciting and aggressive. Many people prefer them in small doses. Purples and greens are intermediary colors, being either warm or cool, depending on how much red or yellow they contain in relation to blue. If the color contains less blue then it is more likely to be a warm hue.
Cool colors are based on blues, greens, pinks, purples, blue-greens, magentas, and blue-reds, colors more commonly associated with spring and summer. Cool colors are soothing, calming colors and tend to be more popular than warm colors.
Creating a site with a combination of warm and cool colors confuses the viewer. It will often make the site seem busy, dirty, and untrustworthy. Site designers do not always realize that their color combinations are warm and cool. The use of a color wheel can be helpful. It shows the Primary (red, yellow, and blue) and Secondary (orange, green, and purple) colors. Combining two primary colors creates secondary colors. All colors are made from some combination of white, black, and the primary colors.
What does all of this mean to site designers? If you want your site to be marketable, remember that there is more to it than just graphic placement and text. Every color tells a story and it may not always fit the one you are trying to portray. In informational design, distinguish functional color from decorative color. Decorative color enhances the layout by making it more aesthetically appealing, creating a mood, or establishing a style. Functional color conveys information explicitly.
Last, but not least, a few rules of thumb
Make sure the choice of colors for a site fits the intended content, and the users’ expectations. Never use more colors than are necessary. Do not use colors that do not support or add to the information being displayed. Remain consistent throughout the site with your color choices, and leave the rainbows for rainy days and for chasing pots of gold.
About the Author
W.L. Wilder is a Website Psychologist and owner of Critical Thinking (thinkingcritically.net}.