How to Strategically Use Color in Website Design (2022)

Using color intentionally in website design is critical; colors evoke meaning and emotion, often at a subconscious level. When used strategically, color is a powerful tool for communicating a brand's message and creating brand recognition.

Color selection in website design comes down to more than just aesthetics. In order to create an effective color palette for a website, it's important to first understand color theory, psychology, and harmony. From there, you can create a palette that aligns with the brand's values, messaging, and target market.

In this post, we'll teach you how to use color to create impactful, high-value websites for your clients. If you prefer to consume content in video form, watch the video below for a ten minute lesson on using color in website design with Ran Segall, Flux Academy's founder.

1. Consider cultural context

Although different colors have different meanings on an individual level, certain colors also have deep-rooted cultural significance. For instance, in Western cultures, red is an attention-grabbing color that signifies danger and urgency (think stop signs). However in some Eastern cultures, like China and India, red represents luck. As another example, black is the color of death and mourning in Western cultures. In some Eastern cultures, the analogous color is white.

As the above examples illustrate, context is critical in color section. Depending on where a brand's target market is based, the colors used on its website could send a very different message. So how do you know which colors to include or avoid based on a client's target market? A simple Google search should do the trick.

If a brand has a global target market, consider avoiding colors like red that have deep cultural significance. Since cultural color meanings are so ingrained in our psyche, we may not consciously realize that we're averse to certain colors. Of course, there are some exceptions. The Coca-Cola Company is known universally for its signature red brand color. In this case, the recognition associated with the brand color is powerful enough to overshadow any negative connotations associated with the color red in Western society.

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2. Understand color theory

Color theory is a set of fundamental principles that govern how to create harmonious color combinations. Understanding these principles is an important first step in creating effective color palettes for brands and websites.

The color wheel

A great tool for understanding the basics of color theory is the color wheel. We've all seen a color wheel before in some variation or another, but for the purposes of this post, we'll use it to examine primary, secondary, and tertiary colors.

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Primary colors

The three primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. When combined, primary colors form secondary colors.

Secondary colors

The secondary colors are purple (red + blue), green (blue + yellow), and orange (red + yellow). Combining secondary colors with primary colors creates tertiary colors.

(Video) How to Choose Colors (Easy 3-Step Process)

Tertiary colors

The tertiary colors are combinations of primary and secondary colors (i.e. red-purple, yellow-orange, blue-green, etc.)

Tints, shades, and tones

Primary, secondary, and tertiary colors are considered pure colors. They are saturated, vivid, and cheerful. Tints are the addition of white to pure colors. This creates lighter, less intense colors. Shades are created with the addition of black to pure colors. Finally, adding black and white to pure colors creates tones. Tones are more subdued than pure colors.

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Now that you understand how different colors are formed and arranged on the color wheel, it'll be easier to create visually appealing color palettes. Color palettes are covered in more detail below in Step 4.

Using contrast

Another important color theory principle concerns the use of contrast. The higher the contrast, the more two colors stand out from one another.

When evaluating contrast, it's important to consider not just the colors (i.e. blue and green), but also their tone. Two different colors with an even tone don't create high contrast. An easy trick for determining the contrast level of two colors is to convert them to grayscale--the difference in contrast will be much more apparent.

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How to Strategically Use Color in Website Design (4)

Generally, we want to use colors with high contrast in website design because of greater legibility. For instance, white text on a dark background, or vice versa. Contrast draws attention and can make certain important elements stand out visually. However, too much color contrast on a website can wear out our eyes. The below website is a good example of how to balance high and low contrast in web design.

How to Strategically Use Color in Website Design (5)

Check out this post to learn more about color theory and how to apply it in website design.

3. Use color psychology to communicate brand messaging and values

Color psychology refers to the influence of color on our feelings, emotions, and behaviors. Although it's a bit subjective, color psychology can help us subconsciously influence people who visit our website in meaningful ways. This makes it a powerful tool for design and marketing.

Colors spark emotions

People are drawn to certain colors in part because of how they make them feel. On the flip side, colors can also cause a gut reaction that would lead someone to avoid associating with them. If this is sounding a bit vague, it's because we're missing a crucial piece of the puzzle: context. In a certain context, red might cause us to feel fear and anxiety. In another, it could incite passion and excitement.

If you want to use color in website design to convey a certain emotion, it needs to integrate seamlessly with other the elements on the page, such as typography, imagery, and copy. With that caveat in mind, let's review some of the most common associations between color and emotion.

(Video) 60-30-10 Color Rule

Common color associations

The below color associations can be used as a reference guide as you consider which colors would best represent a particular brand. How should the target audience feel when they encounter the brand's website? What actions should they take? With the right context, color could make the difference between an engaged potential customer and a disinterested passerby.

  • Red: passion, power, love, danger, excitement
  • Blue: calm, trust, competence, peace, logic, reliability
  • Green: health, nature, abundance, prosperity
  • Yellow: happiness, optimism, creativity, friendliness
  • Orange: fun, freedom, warmth, comfort, playfulness
  • Purple: luxury, mystery, sophistication, loyalty, creativity
  • Pink: nurturing, gentleness, sincerity, warmth
  • Brown: nature, security, protection, support
  • Black: elegance, power, control, sophistication, depression
  • White: purity, peace, clarity, cleanliness

Check out this post to learn more about the psychology of color.

4. Create a color palette

Now that you have a better understanding of color theory and psychology, you're well-equipped to create an intentional color palette for your client's website. The first color you choose should be the brand's primary color. Not to be confused with primary colors in the color wheel, in this case "primary color" refers to the main color in a palette. This is where color psychology really comes in handy. Below are some examples of brands that effectively used color psychology to select their primary brand color.

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To reiterate on an earlier example, The Coca-Cola Company is a brand who took their primary color, a vibrant red, and ran with it. The color is all over their website and advertising. The only other colors in their palette are black and white, which are used for text. Red associates Coca-Cola with feelings of excitement, love, and warmth.

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Whole Foods uses an earthy green as their primary color. Like Coca-Cola, Whole Foods displays their signature color all over their website. Green ties in nicely with Whole Foods' values and clientele: health, nature, and abundance.

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Lowe's is a popular home improvement chain whose primary brand color is a deep blue. Due to the nature of their products, it's important that the Lowe's brand and website convey trust, competence, and reliability, all of which are associated with the color blue.

Color palette types

There are five main types of color palettes: analogous, monochromatic, triad, complementary, and split complementary. Any of these can be used to creative an effective color palette for a website. Below we'll look at some examples of how each of these color palette types are used in website design.

Analogous

Analogous colors are colors that sit next to each other on the color wheel. This type of palette can look very beautiful because the colors fit together so nicely. However, the effect could be too subtle, preventing any elements from standing out enough.

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Monochromatic

Monochromatic color palettes are based on a single color paired with various shades and tints. Like analogous palettes, monochromatic palettes can be very pleasing to look at. However, it's a good idea to add a complementary color to a monochromatic palette in web design in order to draw attention to important elements.

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How to Strategically Use Color in Website Design (12)

Triad

Triad color palettes consist of three colors that are evenly spaced apart on the color wheel, forming a triangle. This type of color palette is a bit risky to use in website design because it can appear noisy. However, depending on context, triad color palettes can be very effective for youthful, playful, and/or artistic brands.

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Complementary

Complementary color palettes contain colors on opposite ends of the color wheel. These palettes are very effective for web design because they create visual balance and tension. If the colors are used equally however, the tension can be too high. Instead, choose one of the complementary colors as the primary brand color, and use the other as an accent color.

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How to Strategically Use Color in Website Design (16)

Split Complementary

Split complementary color palettes are similar to complementary palettes but with a third color thrown in that's next to one of the complementary colors on the color wheel. This type of color palette is also very effective in website design and can add more visual excitement without creating too much noise.

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How to use color palettes in website design

There are various online tools you can use to aid in the process of creating color palettes. A personal favorite, demonstrated in the screenshots above, is Adobe Color. With this tool, you can play around with the color wheel to create a custom palette with any of the five color palette types listed above. You can also upload an image to extract colors from, or click on the Explore tab to peruse pages and pages of color palettes.

To start, I recommend choosing three colors for your palette: a main (or primary) color, secondary color, and accent color. Then, use the 60/30/10 rule to apply these colors in your website design. According to this rule, 60% of the color used should be the main color, 30% the secondary color, and 10% the accent color. Keep in mind, black and white count as colors, too. Below are some examples of stunning websites that incorporate the 60/30/10 color rule.

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Spendesk uses purple as their main color, white as their secondary color, and teal as their accent color.

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Greenlist uses green as their main color, white as their secondary color, and pink as their accent color.

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Demuxed uses yellow as their main color, black as their secondary color, and white as their accent color.

An important note about the 60/30/10 rule is that it's really more of a guideline than a rule. For example, you may wish to incorporate more than three colors in your palette. The main takeaway is to focus on the primary color and use other colors to divide elements, create contrast, and highlight important features.

Master the use of color in website design with our course

In this post, we covered the basics of color theory and psychology and how they're used to create impactful color palettes in website design. But as you know, color alone isn't the be-all-end-all of functional web design; in order to create high-value websites for clients, we need to combine color principles with strategy, typography, layout, UX, and more. Our course, The $10k Website Process, teaches just that.

Click here to learn more about what's covered in the course and how it's helping 1,500+ students transform their web design process and book larger projects.

(Video) How to choose website color scheme (Quick 3 step process for attractive website colors)

FAQs

How do graphic designers use colors effectively? ›

When creating a graphic design work with colors, make sure that you present a contrast between text and background colors. This ensures legibility of the text, which is important to convey your business message effectively. The contrast should be presented between darkness and lightness of the colors.

How important is appropriate color in web design? ›

Along with a well designed user-interface, helping visitors to navigate through the site is one key role colour plays, guiding them through the site content easily and quickly. Colour also helps towards building a content hierarchy, focusing attention on key information and calls to action.

What are the 3 best colors that go together? ›

If you're looking for a few basic but perennially popular 3 color combinations to kickstart your color palette, think about combinations like: Yellow, red, and blue. Green, orange, and purple. Teal, magenta, and gold.

What is the 60 30 10 decorating rule? ›

What is the 60-30-10 Rule? It's a classic decor rule that helps create a color palette for a space. It states that 60% of the room should be a dominant color, 30% should be the secondary color or texture and the last 10% should be an accent.

What is color theory in Web design? ›

Color theory is the collection of rules and guidelines which designers use to communicate with users through appealing color schemes in visual interfaces. To pick the best colors every time, designers use a color wheel and refer to extensive collected knowledge about human optical ability, psychology, culture and more.

What are some effective ways color can be used in designs? ›

Color is used to attract attention, group related elements, convey meaning, and generally enhance the aesthetics of your site. It can be used to organize your elements and create a visual hierarchy in your design. A small dose of color that contrasts with your main color will draw attention. It will give emphasis.

How many colors should you use on a website? ›

To start, I recommend choosing three colors for your palette: a main (or primary) color, secondary color, and accent color. Then, use the 60/30/10 rule to apply these colors in your website design. According to this rule, 60% of the color used should be the main color, 30% the secondary color, and 10% the accent color.

Which color attracts the most attention? ›

Red is the color of power. It gets people's attention and holds it. It is the most popular color for marketing. The color red tends to increase the heart rate and create a sense of urgency.

Which colour is most effective for web design when not overused? ›

Blue is safe. The safest color scheme is blue. Any shade of blue works, and any combination of blue in the color scheme is effective.

Why color is a powerful tool in designing? ›

Color affects the perception of form and the dimensions and qualities of interior space. Color impacts how we feel and how we behave, so color is a powerful tool for an interior designer when making the choices for a particular environment.

What are the rules of color theory? ›

Primary Colors:Red, Yellow, Blue (Royal Blue, Navy Blue). They cannot be created using any other colors or combinations. Secondary Colors: Include green (Olive Green), orange, and purple. Secondary colors are created by mixing primary colors.

Why does Google use 4 colors? ›

Colours of the logo are reminiscent of the first Google server built from Lego bricks. Google's first server rack was built from Lego bricks, as the team considered it a more cost-efficient (and expandable) way to secure ten 4GB hard drives. The colours included in it were red, yellow, blue and green, same as the logo.

What is the three color rule? ›

The premise of the 3-color rule is not combine more than three colors in your outfit at any one time. The exceptions are black and white — they don't count, as they aren't technically colors, so they can be intermixed without actually adding a color to your outfit.

How do graphic designers combine colors? ›

Secondary colors are created by combining two primary colors. Red and yellow make orange; yellow and blue make green; and blue and red make purple. If we mix these colors together, we get even more in-between shades, like red-orange and yellow-green.

How do you coordinate colors? ›

How Can You Coordinate Colors in a Room?
  1. Leverage the Color Wheel. ...
  2. Contrast With Complementary Colors. ...
  3. Add Nuance With Related Colors. ...
  4. Determine Your Accent Colors. ...
  5. Decide Color Placement. ...
  6. Apply the 60-30-10 Rule. ...
  7. Avoid Overcomplicating Your Design. ...
  8. Consider the Flooring in Your Space.
24 Jan 2019

What is the golden ratio in interior design? ›

They're based off the ratio of 1:1.618. For those who aren't aware, the 10-30-60 Rule talks states that a well-designed space should consist of three colors. First, a dominant color, which should cover around 60% of the space and is usually used in areas like walls and flooring.

How do you pick 3 colors? ›

The rule of 3 colors is simple: pick one primary color. Then, pick two other complementary colors. See the example below. We picked a main hue (a variation red), and complemented it with two different colors.

What is primary color in website? ›

Primary color: This is where the user's attention goes. Calls-to-action, buttons, and any other important information should utilize the primary color. Secondary color: The secondary colors are used to highlight less important elements.

How many fonts should be used in a website? ›

A website should keep the number of fonts to a minimum—no more than three in total. When a site has too many fonts, the user can become disoriented with so many shifts in the visual design. The chosen typefaces should have a variety of weights and styles that can be used strategically in the UI design.

What does orange mean for websites? ›

Orange is not as aggressive as red but takes on some of the same qualities, stimulating mental activity. It also symbolizes ignorance and deceit.

How do you balance colors in design? ›

For a balanced color arrangement, there should be a dominant color temperature. This will cause attention to go to the subordinate color, as it will stand out in the dominant field. An overall cool color temperature can be balanced by a small area of warm or vice versa.

How do you apply colors in design? ›

Select the object or text you want to change. If the Color panel is not displayed, choose Window > Color. Select the Fill box or the Stroke box in the Color panel. If you selected a text frame, select the Container box or Text box to change the color of either the fill or text within the frame.

What is the impact of color in a graphic design? ›

Using color in graphic design is an excellent way to subtlety influence the way a viewer feels about a composition. For example, bright green colors tend to evoke springtime and nature, which would make perfect sense for a renewable energy company's logo.

How do you create a successful color scheme? ›

One of the simplest ways to create a professional looking color scheme is to take a few tones, tints, and shades of a given color (avoiding the pure hue), and then add in another pure hue (or close to pure) that's at least three spaces away on the color wheel (part of a tetradic, triatic, or split-complementary color ...

What color looks the most professional? ›

Blue, black, grey, brown and white are the best, while orange is universally considered the worst colour for an interview. Also avoid yellow, green and purple.

What color catches the eye first? ›

On the other hand, since yellow is the most visible color of all the colors, it is the first color that the human eye notices. Use it to get attention, such as a yellow sign with black text, or as an accent.

What is the best background color for a website? ›

White is not only the best background color for websites, but is also one of the most common. It is neutral, so you can use it with anything. The primary concern with a white background is using darker colors for contrast. Don't use white and a soft yellow, for example, as the text will fade into the background.

What color attracts success? ›

Gold is the most powerful color if you are thinking of attracting affluence, fame, and wealth. Due to all these things, it is the most powerful color that attracts wealth. Also, you can interpret the color of gold effortlessly.

What is the most powerful color? ›

Red is the most powerful color amongst all. It has a tendency to stimulate mind and attract attention.

What colors stimulate buying? ›

Red is more effective for impulse purchases, so it's a common buy button choice on ecommerce websites. But it's more effective for B2B software vendors too. When HubSpot A/B tested CTA button color for Performable, red out-converted green by 21%. Red seems to perform best across the board.

What colors draw attention? ›

Bright, bold and vibrant colors work best. However, any color that contrasts with your background will serve you well. Shades of yellow, orange, red, green, purple and blue are all excellent color choices to grab a user's attention. In some cases, black and white is the way to go.

What do purple websites mean? ›

Purple is associated with royalty. It can be used to communicate creativity, imagination, authority, sophistication, power, wealth, prosperity, mystery, wisdom, and respect.

Is purple good color for website? ›

Purple can also convey ideas such as sophistication, imagination, power, respect, creativity, prosperity, wisdom, wealth, authority, and mystery. Web design uses the power of purple, incorporating it into graphic themes. These designs draw people in because of the engaging quality of purple.

What website colors attract the most? ›

Peter Koenig and his fellow researchers found that the axis of Red-Green color contrast plays the largest role in attracting our overt attention in natural scenes, while the effects of a Blue-Yellow color contrast are much less influential.

How many colors should a website have? ›

Most brands have 1 or 2 main colors found in their logo, while most websites will need 4 to 5. This does not mean they have to be different colors.

How do you use color schemes? ›

How to Choose a Color Scheme
  1. Prioritize the user experience, first. Leverage natural inspiration.
  2. Set a mood for your color scheme.
  3. Consider color context.
  4. Refer to your color wheel.
  5. Use the 60-30-10 rule.
  6. Draft multiple designs.
21 Jun 2021

What is the most trusting color? ›

Of the four tested colors, the blue color scheme was perceived as most trustworthy and black as least trustworthy.

What color catches the eye first? ›

On the other hand, since yellow is the most visible color of all the colors, it is the first color that the human eye notices. Use it to get attention, such as a yellow sign with black text, or as an accent.

What colors promote trust? ›

Blue is heavily associated with trust, which may be why many financial institutions often choose it.

Which colour is most effective for web design when not overused? ›

Blue is safe. The safest color scheme is blue. Any shade of blue works, and any combination of blue in the color scheme is effective.

What is the most inviting color? ›

Green is warm, inviting, and denotes health, environmental-friendliness, and goodwill. (It's also the color of money, so it creates thoughts of wealth.)

What are the 7 color schemes? ›

7 Types of color schemes
  • Monochromatic. A monochromatic color scheme uses all variations of a single hue. ...
  • Complementary. A complementary color scheme is made up of colors opposite to one another on the color wheel. ...
  • Split complementary. ...
  • Achromatic. ...
  • Analogous. ...
  • Triadic. ...
  • Tetradic.
8 Aug 2022

How do you balance colors in design? ›

For a balanced color arrangement, there should be a dominant color temperature. This will cause attention to go to the subordinate color, as it will stand out in the dominant field. An overall cool color temperature can be balanced by a small area of warm or vice versa.

What are the rules of color theory? ›

Primary Colors:Red, Yellow, Blue (Royal Blue, Navy Blue). They cannot be created using any other colors or combinations. Secondary Colors: Include green (Olive Green), orange, and purple. Secondary colors are created by mixing primary colors.

What makes a good color scheme? ›

One of the simplest ways to create a professional looking color scheme is to take a few tones, tints, and shades of a given color (avoiding the pure hue), and then add in another pure hue (or close to pure) that's at least three spaces away on the color wheel (part of a tetradic, triatic, or split-complementary color ...

Videos

1. How to use colors in web design
(MAK)
2. Give Your Website a Perfect Color Scheme, Fast & Easy
(Wes McDowell)
3. 🎨 How to CHOOSE COLORS for a WEBSITE using the 60-30-10 color rule👩‍💻 | IMPROVE your web designs 💯
(Paige Brunton)
4. How to Effortlessly Choose Website Color Palettes (with Examples)
(tipswithpunch)
5. How to use color as a branding element on your website
(Charlotte O'Hara)
6. Color Psychology In Web Design
(GraVoc)

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