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Elements Of Web Design: The Power of Color

Web design is a complicated half-art, half-science that has a challenging goal: to influence a surfer’s behavior without necessarily having any control over the text or pictures that the surfer is looking at. In order to do that, a web designer has to use every element at his disposal — which means they have to understand what every one of those elements will do to a surfer’s psyche.

Let’s start with colors. Every color has an impact on a surfer’s emotional state, sometimes overt, sometimes subtle. Cultural differences can change the meaning of colors quite a bit (for example, in most of the Eastern world, white is the color of mourning, not of virtue.) But since my clientele is primarily right here in the USA, I’ll focus on the effects colors have on us Americans.

Red stimulates, excites, and warns. Passion, anger, power, royalty, blood, and STOP. The blue-tinted reds like maroon suggest strength and nurturing masculinity. Orange-tinted reds like crimson suggest great energy and boldness. (Fun fact: Ford markets several cars in a shade called ‘arrest-me red’.) Use red on your website if you want to have a powerful impact and you don’t mind if people think you might be prone to leap before you look.

Pink is the color of youthful femininity and playfulness. Cute, saccharine, bubblegum, and innocence. The more pastel the pink, the stronger the association. By contrast, darker more electric pinks still convey femininity, but are associated with punk rock, deliberate sexuality, and the female ‘hardcore’. Use pink on your website if you overtly intend it to be for girls (or grrlz), or you intend to hearken back to the good ol’ days.

Orange conveys the same vibrancy as red without being quite so urgent. Orange is friendly and inviting but kinetic and busy. Orange is often used to convey a sense of creativity because it implies motion and isn’t used very often. Use orange if you want people to think of you as a little quirky and capable of getting a lot done.

Yellow is associated with warmth, sunshine, and the freedom of the summertime — or danger and caution. It’s particularly resonant with young children either way. The softer, whiter yellows tend more toward the summer feeling; the deeper yellows more toward the alarming. Use yellow when you want people to stop and pay attention first, and then either relax or become concerned.

Green is the color of rejuvination, optimism, eco-consciousness…and money…and mold. The darker greens are associated with money, affluence, lushness, and stability. Lighter greens are associated with spring, new growth, freshness, eco-consciousness, and — when you pair them with the idea of meat — mold and decomposition. Use green when you want to convey the idea of success, whether biological or monetary.

Blue is the color of calm, possibly because of its association with water and the sky. Dark blues are associated with experience, dependability, and depth, in the spiritual and intellectual sense. (Remember IBM’s “Deep Blue”? That wasn’t a coincidence.) Light blues call to mind openness, lightness, and airiness. Use blue on your website if you want people to relax before they start interacting with the content.

Purple is a color with a laundry list of associations that make it somewhat challenging to use well. Darker violets are associated with Old World nobility, and thus wealth and luxury — but also with plums and other fruits, which can imply fertility or the (again) luxury of juiciness. Lighter colors like lavender bring to mind romance, springtime…and the elderly. Use purple sparingly and with lots of secondary imagery to make sure you
convey the association that you intend to.

Black, White, and Gray
Black, white, and grey should rarely if ever be used as focus colors. Instead, keep them to the background and let your other colors shine. Use black to convey authority, power, and sophistication; white to convey cleanliness, ease, and happiness; grey to convey seriousness and tradition.

Browns, Creams, and Tans
Browns, creams, and tans are attached to ideas of nature, conservation (both of nature and in the sense of conservative politics), and reliability. Use browns, creams, and tans if you want to reassure your visitors of your experience and your dependability.

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