At some point, everyone who works in design—that includes graphic designers, interior designers, web designing agencies and more—must confront the ways in which they use color. And at some point, inevitably, that becomes self-examination—an attempt to understand the extent to which the designer’s personal sensibilities conflict or are in harmony with the perceptions of their audience.
That can be a daunting challenge, because those audience perceptions are not uniform, from one culture to another, or even from one person to another. For some people, red means danger; for others, it signals passion. Black can be funereal, or evoke a sense of elegance and luxury. Studies show that women love purple, but that color leaves men cold.
For businesses with a global audience, the challenges are even greater. Take the color green, for example. For historical reasons, the Irish consider green the color of luck—that same history, however, tells the English something very different. In Islamic countries, green is venerated. For Americans, green can mean greed and envy, unless they’re eco-conscious, in which case it signals a concern for the environment.
The Psychology of Color in Marketing
As marketing strategist Geoffrey Ciotti, writing for Entrepreneur, rightly concludes in “The Psychology of Color in Marketing and Branding,” much of the talk about the role of color in persuasion is little more than speculation without any credible grounding in research or data:
“Why does color psychology invoke so much conversation … but is backed with so little factual data? As research shows, it’s likely because elements such as personal preference, experiences, upbringing, cultural differences, context, etc., often muddy the effect individual colors have on us. So the idea that colors such as yellow or purple are able to invoke some sort of hyper-specific emotion is about as accurate as your standard Tarot card reading.”
This isn’t to say that a host of studies haven’t attempted to understand the ways consumers respond to color in marketing. The Log Company, to cite just one example, in “Psychology of Color in Logo Design,” looked at the logos of hundreds of prominent brands and grouped them by color, asserting that those colors linked brands in accordance with some primary emotion they all tried to convey. Those colors, what they “convey,” and some of the brands which used them in their logos, include the following:
- Yellow is for optimism, clarity and warmth: UPS, Subway, Best Buy and Hertz
- Orange evokes friendly, cheerful confidence: Amazon, Payless, Gulf and Harley Davidson
- Red is excitement, youthful, bold: Coca-Cola, Kmart, Avis and Canon
- Purple says creative, imaginative and wise: Taco Bell, Syfy, T-Mobile and Hallmark
- Blue is trust, dependability, strength: Dell, Lowe’s, Hewlett-Packard and Oreo
- Green means peaceful, growth and health: BP, Shopify, Tropicana and Hess
- Grey is for balance, neutral and calm: CNN, Apple, CBS and Puma
A Quick Caveat
This kind of analysis is a bit simplistic and confounding—for example, it begs questions such as why one energy company, BP, gets mileage from green’s peaceful hues, while another, Gulf, goes with the friendly, cheerful confidence that orange ostensibly evokes. It is nevertheless true that, although there are differences based on gender and culture, consumers do tend to associate certain feelings with certain colors.
Context is important
Although individual colors can more or less predictably evoke emotions, web designers also need to consider the ways that the use of multiple colors, the context in which they’re used and an understanding of audience serve specific marketing purposes. As Ciotti notes:
“The psychology of colour is less about individual color washes, but rather an understanding of how people respond emotionally to multiple colors. Ultimately, factoring in color theory and pscyhology, color choices for your website should only be made once the designer has a firm grasp on a) audience / market, b) geotargeting / cultural considerations, and c) brand / product and related guidelines.”
Every business is different, and so is every website, each with its own audience, branding requirements and marketing objectives. That said, and given that there are always exceptions for specific marketing purposes, there are some best practice rules for the use of color in web designing. Here are 10 best practice recommendations:
- Use blue to create trust: both men and women like blue (see #6 below), which is among the reasons it’s one of the most used colors in web designing. Multiple research studies have found that blue creates a sense of trust, which is why Facebook, whose brand is built on trust and transparency, made blue its color of choice.
- Use green for environmental and outdoor businesses: green creates positive associations with the outdoors, which makes it ideal for landscaping and environmental companies. Increasingly, however, green is being used by energy companies (like BP and Hess) to counter the notion that they’re hostile to environmental concerns.
- Use orange to create a sense of fun, activity or urgency: a lot of sports teams and businesses which cater to children use orange because of its association with fun. Amazon uses orange in its “limited time offer” banner to create a sense of urgency.
- Use Black to communicate luxury and value: black is the color of choice for high-end ecommerce sites and luxury designers, like Louis Viutton. As Melissa Stanger notes in Business Insider, “Black, when used correctly, can communicate glamour, sophistication, exclusivity.”
- Test colors on different computers: the colors you create will look different on different computer brands and different browsers. Always test your color scheme on a variety of computers and browsers before publishing.
- Consider the gender of your audience: recent surveys which ask women and men what their favorite colors are indicate some stark differences. For example, the favorite colors for women are blue, purple and green (in that order)—their least favorite colors are grey, orange and brown. For men, blue, green and black top the list, with purple, orange and brown at the bottom. Although no demographic is monolithic and there will be differences (which you should test) in gender subgroups, these are safe suggestions when designing for primarily male or female audiences.
- Use a single color for background: multiple background colors or background patterns can create confusion. Use a single color that contrasts well with the color of your text, for example, black text against a white background. Also, avoid colors that clash—for example, green text on a red background might be good for the holidays, but tends not to work in web design.
- Use blue for links: readers tend to expect links to be blue, which is easy to read when surrounding text is black. This is one of the reasons some of the most-visited sites—including the New York Tines, eBay, Google and Yahoo—use this color. You should also change the color of links after site visitors click on them. This promotes easier navigation. A good choice for clicked links is maroon.
- Use white space strategically: it’s important to remember that most people will spend only seconds perusing a web page. Separating key page elements with white space makes it easier for site visitors to find them. For example, a prominent, brightly-colored “buy now” button against a lightly-colored background is easy to find and inviting.
- Create your branding style guide with web design in mind: the colors you use in web designing should be consistent with your branding guidelines, which means you need to be thinking about your website when you create those rules. You don’t want to paint yourself into a corner with a color palette that simply won’t work in the design of your site.
Your Best Bet Is to Work with a Seasoned Web Designing Agency
Like most things in life, knowing how to use elements like color in web design is something that comes with experience. If you’re a chief marketing officer for a startup business or a large organization, you probably don’t have time to make the granular choices necessary to ensure that your website resonates with your customers. That’s why your best bet is to partner with an experienced web designing agency, one which can help you create a comprehensive digital marketing strategy which integrates all the elements of your marketing campaigns, from creative design to SEO, content creation, marketing automation and social optimization.