Choosing a Color for Your WebsiteMonday, September 29th, 2008
One of the first things that we notice when we visit a website is its colour palette. This can be a subconscious realization when the colours are subtle, or very noticeable when the shades are bold or jarring. While many website colours are chosen based on the personal aesthetics of the client or the web designer, choosing the most effective colours involves more thought than this.
No article about choosing colours would be complete without at least mentioning colour theory-the science that explains how colours go together. However, we won’t be going into detail about this, except to mention its importance in colour palette selection. While choosing colours can be done without knowledge of colour theory, for the colour scheme to work, the colours must follow the theory. In other words, if you know and can apply colour theory, you will find choosing effective colour palettes much easier. For more information, visit this link for an excellent primer.
Psychological impact of colour
This is dependent on factors such as age, gender and culture as well as personal preference. For example, every culture has different colour associations, and as a result it can be very difficult coming up with a colour that will suit all cultures (for more information, please see this article). The only way to select a colour palette that will appeal to your visitors is by knowing your target market.
While few people will have the time or budget to do a full-blown survey of a target market, an informal poll may be better than nothing, although you should be aware of the potential for misinterpretation. If you are fortunate, your target market’s reaction to colours will have been studied already, and a quick web search should provide you with some guidelines. Another good way to find out what colours work well for your market is to visit successful competitor websites and see if there is a common scheme in use (e.g. blue is often used by corporations: IBM, Microsoft).
The consideration of text colour in combination with background colour is worth mentioning separately, as written content is normally the most important aspect of a website. High contrast text is easiest to read, and for this reason, black text on a white background is often preferred. However, beware of high contrast colour combinations that cause the boundaries of the colour to appear to “vibrate”, as in the following example:
In the US alone, 2,800,000 people are affected by colour-blindness (http://depts.washington.edu/ophthweb/statistics.html), and so this is an important consideration for any website. Colour blindness is more common in males, and also differs in prevalence depending on race, so again, knowing your target audience is important. By using tools such as Color Oracle you can replicate what users with the three main types of colour vision defects will see when they look at your website. For some more general advice on what to avoid and best practice, try the following.
If you are expecting elderly users or users with impaired eyesight, this is another consideration for colour, with high contrast colour combinations become more important (of course in combination with a larger font size).
While you do not have to limit the website colours you use so that they look the same to all your visitors, you can take accessibility seriously and ensure that your website can be used easily by everyone. As with all accessibility issues, automated programmes can only provide best guesses, and you should really see how your target market copes with your colour scheme by carrying out testing and getting feedback.
There’s a lot to think about before choosing your website’s colour scheme. What is clearly important is that you know your target market and their attitudes towards colours. Equally important is the ability to choose colours that work harmoniously together, to create a good aesthetic impression. Finally, a website that cannot be read easily or even used at all will leave visitors and potential customers with a very bad impression of your business.