How to choose a colour scheme for website design

Added 28.03.11

It’s well-known that more than 80% of the visual information absorbed by the human eye is related to colour. Colour affects our lives in a myriad of ways – from the simple task of knowing whether a baby is a boy or girl, where pink and blue are concerned, or helping us to decide whether a loaf of bread or cut of meat is well-cooked, to deeper psychological effects such as calming nerves or inspiring hunger – we are constantly interpreting the meaning and feeling the impact of colour.

It makes sense then, that when it comes to web designing, colour is going to be one of the most important choices. Of course there are some basic guidelines to follow for using colour in website design. A common mistake that can be made in web design, particularly by the inexperienced, is the use of loud and conflicting colour schemes. Certainly contemporary web design does allow for the use of an endless variety of colours and background patterns, but that doesn’t mean you need to use seven different themes on each page. A good rule to follow is to pick two or three colours that evoke the mood of your business and are not so harsh that your customers will need to wear sunglasses to browse through the site! When adding coloured patterns to a page, you should also remain aware that adding texture to colours can affect the luminosity of the colour. While dense and rough textures darken tones, smooth surfaces will lighten and add a glow to your page.

So how do you go about choosing the right colour scheme for your particular website design? Not only is it important to select a colour scheme that highlights the ideals of your company and purposes of your website, you should also consider researching the popular cultural and symbolic meanings of colours in relation to the gender and social setting of your target audience, as well as current trends in web design colour which can be observed in contemporary graphic design portfolios.

Another useful area to investigate when selecting a colour scheme for your website design is the wealth of research into colour symbolism that assesses how the colours around us affect us in unconscious ways. For example, it’s commonly believed that the colour yellow inspires hunger and this could be the reason that one of the most successful international fast food chains today is known to draw customers with its iconic ‘golden arches’.

Let’s take a look at some of the other most common colours and how they can be used to attract customers to your website and bring your web design to life. Whether you believe that the colour red truly increases heart rate, blood pressure and metabolism, both yellow and red can certainly be used in web design to effectively highlight images and text. Both colours tend to cause objects to appear larger and closer to the viewer, while red can be used to emphasise words and inspire urgent action. As with any colour, be careful not to over-use red and yellow in your website design because they can be garish and lose their impact over large areas.

Like yellow, orange is also believed to stimulate the appetite and encourage sales in cafés and restaurants so it may be an ideal choice for a website design that promotes a hospitality company. Like red, orange is also believed to increase circulation and inspire brain activity so could potentially be advantageous in a web design that aims to stimulate potential clients and excite them about the services of your company. For the same reason, orange is also a popular colour choice in branding and logo design.

Once you have done some research into the psychology and symbolism of colour in relation to the message you want your web design to convey, you should also reflect on how you can combine colours to different effects. High impact website designs can be created using combinations of yellow, blue and orange for example, while pastel tones of blue and mauve can evoke a calming tranquility.

Whatever your selections and reasons may be, choosing the correct colour scheme is an essential aspect of successful web design and one to be approached thoughtfully and creatively.