Web design: The color story

We humans are hard-wired by evolution to make judgements and decisions without much time or thought. We’ve all made these types of quick decisions based on instinct and little else. Considering that the bounce rate off a website is 8 seconds, then you need that first impression to be accurate and memorable. And nothing delivers an immediate wealth of information like color.

As a web designer, I rely on my instincts to deliver the right color tone to my projects. It took me a long time to trust this but I realized that there is a rational explanation every time. People say that I have an eye for color but I can actually FEEL it- the mood, the personality and the intention. Important questions for my clients are: How do you want the target audience to feel? What do you want to convey? Trust? Power? Innovation? Friendliness? These gut-reactions happen in an instant and are mostly due to color influence. Every time a user clicks on a site, there is a color signal- and that determines whether they stay… or not.

There are the obvious color cues, like navy blue for business sites and green for banking but it’s also hue, vibrancy and use of white space that gets noticed and speaks volumes. The combination of colors can also shift the mood. For example, that serious business site becomes more approachable when we introduce earth tones and bright blue to the navy color scheme.

When color is meant to convey refinement, authority or an upscale market, less is more. In these cases, the color palette is mono-chromatic or neutral with an accent color. The accent color usually defines the brand, as in the Aqua of Tiffany’s, while the use of white space conveys elegance.


Sites skewed towards youthful, consumer brands use flat, bright colors and simple bold imagery.


High contrast colors will grab attention as will large swatches of solid color.

By keeping action areas consistent in color, we can direct the user down a specific path.

Of course, there are some practical color considerations. If there is a lot to read then dark text on a light background is best- less eye strain means longer attention span. Dark backgrounds such as black, evoke mood and drama but it’s best to display large, impactful key phrases and keep the smaller text to a minimum.

Using an intense color on top of another will cause them to vibrate, so using bright blue type on a red background is not a good idea.

It’s amazing how quickly the eye can process all of this information and how important it is to send the correct message with the first click. An experienced digital designer will use this intuitive knowledge and deliver a mix of color so that it just feels right ;)

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