What colours to use when designing for the web

Have you ever considered what colours are best used when design a website, have you ever wondered what colours mean or reflect to your audience?

It seems that colour experts conclude that  “The most common colours are your primary colours: reds, oranges, yellows, greens and blues,” says Simon Rowell, founder of Brand Intellect. “They’re the most popular because those colours tend not to really go completely out of fashion.”

Blue

Blue is very commonly used online, as it’s associated with trust and credibility, especially in western cultures.

“There’s a natural inclination to look at the colour blue and feel a bit safe,” says Brand Intellect’s Rowell. “This is why you quite often find banks, legal companies, or insurance companies tending towards blue if they can.”

Applied colour psychology specialist Karen Haller also points out that blue is common among social network brands.

“The social media giants – Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn – have all chosen blue to represent their brand, all using different tones that in themselves have their own subtle meanings,” she says. “Blue is the colour of the intellect, the mind, making it the colour of communication, and when you think about social media, it’s all about communicating.”

According to Anthony Bologna, design director at Trout Creative Thinking, blue is particularly useful for companies that need to elicit the customer’s trust.

“It’s really about decisions which are fairly high involvement – where there’s a high penalty to pay through making the wrong decision – as opposed to low involvement like buying toothpaste,” he says. “Choosing a lawyer or choosing a bank or an insurance company is pretty important, so those sort of companies tend towards the blues.”

Entering the ‘Facebook blue’ hex code (3B5998) into the ‘triad’ setting of the colour wheel, and adjusting the white colour points will show you how the social media service arrived at the subtle shade of green currently used in the Facebook Mobile illustration and ‘sign up’ button on its landing page.

Red

Red is a colour most commonly used to drive customer impulses.

“Red is very much a retail colour,” says Brand Intellect’s Rowell. “It’s about passion and excitement, and impulse and now.”

He singles out fast food companies like McDonalds and Red Rooster, as well as phone companies like Vodafone, as good examples of brands that use the colour to stand out and encourage impulse buying.

It’s interesting to note that Westpac, a company in an industry that traditionally aligns itself with the trusted overtones of blue, has built its entire brand around the colour red.

“The red colour is generally associated with excitement, desire and passion in a western context,” says Rowell. “Really, what Westpac is trying to do is add a little bit of professionalism and trust by using the light purple and the grey/platinum, to give themselves a sense of stability, and make them look quite a serious company, as they are.”

Entering the approximate hex code of FF0000 into the ‘triad’ setting of the colour wheel shows how Westpac came to find its muted purple. Repeating the process with that colour’s hex code (420042) will reveal the dark grey used by in the bank’s header and text.

For businesses planning on targeting international markets, it’s wise to note that some colours have different cultural connotations in other countries.

“In China, it means good luck. In Russia, it’s a bit old fashioned, because it’s associated with communism,” says Rowell.

Orange/Yellow

Given that a white background is the best drawing board for any business creating an online presence, the use of highlight colours like orange and yellow on a new website is a bit risky. Trout Creative’s Bologna still insists that it has merit as a highlight colour, noting that it’s particularly effective when used on a black background.

“It creates a little bit of excitement and an air of innovation. It’s bold,” he says. “It’s probably the strongest highlight colour that’s used all around the world. In Europe, for example, basically every street sign is yellow.”

One of the most famous examples of a consumer-facing yellow brand is that of the Yellow Pages. Note that the directory’s eye-catching brand is heavily anchored by its use of black. Similar to this is the Australian no frills label Black and Gold.

Placing the hex code of the yellow used on the Yellow Pages Australian homepage (FFDD22) into the color wheel gives a clear indication of what led the company’s designer to settle on the green and light blue of its online palette.

As with red, both yellow and orange have pointed cultural connotations in other parts of the world.

“In Ireland, orange is a religiously-charged colour, because it’s aligned with Protestantism. Being a predominantly catholic country, there’s issues there,” says Rowell.

“Yellow in the old fashioned sense in western culture, is associated with cowardice in some respects, but in Japan it’s associated with courage,” he continues. “In Egypt, it’s associated with mourning.”

Green

The colour green is most commonly used in western branding among ecologically-inclined companies. Whether or not a business is ‘green friendly’ the use of green as a basic brand colour will summon that type of connotation for most people that encounter it.

It’s no surprise that oil company BP should have built its brand around green. A quick look at the colour wheel spectrum for its basic colour (009900) demonstrates the rationale behind the varying shades of green and dusty yellow used to underline headings and copy at BP.com

“Green’s a colour that’s become much more popular in recent years, because of the growth of environmentalism in Australia,” says Rowell. “It’s very much associated with Islam, in predominantly Hindu countries. In China green is associated with infidelity. Those sort of things need to be thought about from the point of view of a website.”

 

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