Color theory is a complicated mixture of art and science. It is understanding how colours mix and how they are perceived; but more importantly, it is developing visually appealing colour combinations that effectively and accurately communicate a message. Understanding and applying colour theory is an essential component of website design because the colours used and how they are employed carry meaning and weight and will either engage, bore or repel your audience.
Colour theory involves many different definitions and concepts, but there are 4 basic categories that should be considered when designing a website: colour meaning, colour wheel, colour harmony, and the context of how colours are used.
Colours Convey Meaning
Colour has the ability to generate a feeling, symbolize an idea or produce a response. Each colour used in a website conveys both tone and meaning, which influences audiences’ judgments and reactions. Therefore, it is important to consider the feeling or response you are hoping to elicit when selecting a colour palate. Equally important is understanding your targeted audience and the associations they may have with the colours you are considering. For example, the colour palate for a website aimed at children should look different than one targeted toward middle aged men.
While our individual reactions to certain colours will vary based on our personal experiences or cultural backgrounds, there are broad generalizations about what each colour means or the emotion they are associated with. Keep in mind that colours can also hold both positive and negative connotations depending on the context. The colour yellow for example is often associated with optimism, joy and radiance. However, it can also be used to convey jealousy, deceit or caution. Moreover, some colours can carry different meanings or importance in other cultures. For example, the colour red is associated with marriage, prosperity and happiness in many Asian cultures, while it is often used as the colour of mourning in South Africa.
Colour harmony is the process of creating balanced combinations of colour that are visually appealing. Or in simple terms, it means using colours that go together. It involves the organizing principals of all artwork: balance, variety, proportion, dominance, and repetition. The use of colour harmony impacts the way the audience perceives the visual content. Using complementary colors can create a striking effect, while analogous colours impart a sense of tranquillity. The mood or feeling you want to evoke with your audience can essentially be induced with the right colour design.
The Colour Wheel
Most of us will remember the colour wheel from elementary school – that rainbow of colours arranged neatly in a circle. The colour wheel is an important concept that anyone involved in marketing or design should be familiar with. Choosing the right colour combinations can have a significant impact on how a website is perceived or how effective it is.
The wheel makes colour relationships easy to see by dividing the colour spectrum into 12 basic hues: three primary colours, three secondaries, and six tertiaries. It should be used to select colour combinations or schemes that compliment and balance each other. There are four types of colour schemes that are most commonly used:
Monochromatic Scheme uses tone-on-tone combinations of several shades and tints of a single hue for a subtle palette. For example, pale blue, sky blue, and navy.
Complementary Scheme uses any two colours which are directly opposite each other on the colour wheel, such as red and green.
Analogous Scheme is based on a combination of two or more colours that are equally spaced from each other on the colour wheel.
Triadic Scheme is a combination of any three colours that are evenly spaced around the colour wheel. By using an equilateral triangle, you can ensure colours will have equivalent vibrancy and match each other properly.
It’s All About Context
Colour context is how we perceive colour in relation to other colours and shapes. Colours mutually influence each other and alter perceptions. For example, all colours stand out more when set against a black background. In contrast, colours seem less vivid when a white background is used.
Colour directs the audiences’ eye where to look, what to focus on and can affect how a graphic is interpreted. Colour can put content into context. A strategic website design will help audiences decide what to focus on and what isn’t important. Colour can be used to effectively draw the eye a specific element on the site such as a call to action or infographics.
There really isn’t a perfect formula when using colour in website design, but there are combinations and applications that work better than others. To ensure your website is using colour theory effectively or for help in website design and digital marketing, contact Growth Media Strategy.