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.

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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.

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

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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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How to Strategically Use Color in Website Design (14)

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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(Video) How to Choose Website Color Palettes (+ Color Schemes)

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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) KEY Web Design Principles: Navigation, Hierarchy & Color

FAQs

What should the strategic use of color do? ›

The strategic use of color can be critical to the mood, feeling and impact of the photo itself. Striking, saturated and bold colors beckon viewers to notice them, while soft and muted tones fade to a whisper in comparison. Primary colors tend to be bold, while pastels tend to be the whisperers.

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.

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 color website attracts most? ›

Blue: the most versatile and universally liked. Blue has been shown to inspire feelings of trust, making it a heavy favorite in website color schemes. Purple: creativity, wisdom and confidence. Purple is a unique, strong color to use within a website color scheme as it demands attention and stands out.

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 represents quality? ›

Purple. When most people think of purple they think of Cadbury, the color symbolizes quality, luxury and royalty.

How does color affect branding? ›

The right color shows off your brand's personality

Purchasing intent is greatly affected by colors due to their effect on how a brand is perceived; colors influence how customers view the “personality” of the brand in question.

Why Colours are used in branding? ›

In branding, color affects how customers perceive a brand and relate to it. Brands use colors to convey a specific message to customers. We should note that people may have a subjective perception of color, based on their own experiences and cultures.

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.

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

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 the dominant color? ›

What is it? Dominant color is achieved when one color serves as the focal point in a photo. The color expresses more intensity among other colors in the picture. This type of photo tends to instantly catch the attention of the viewer.

What color catches the eye first? ›

Red and orange seem to be the clear winner when it comes to eye-catching colors. These colors tend to stand out and are therefore used on many warning signs or safety equipment. Yellow is another color that comes in a close second to red and orange in popularity.

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 draws 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.

What color is the happiest? ›

Yellow is widely recognized as the happiest color in the world and comes with a scientific pedigree to back up this esteemed honor. Research has suggested two main reasons why yellow is considered the happiest color. Many studies have linked the psychological powers of yellow to the sun.

What colours attract customers? ›

Red is the color of power. It gets people's attention and it holds it, which is why it's the most popular color for marketing. The word SALE is always red, and you'll often find red a common tie color for professionals. When you want to be viewed as trustworthy and cool, blue is the color for you.

What colors attract attention? ›

The highest-converting are bright primary and secondary colors — red, green, orange, and yellow. Reds are attention-getting.

What color promotes positive energy? ›

Pink brings strong positive energy into your environment. Mood-lifting yellow is another colour that belongs to the fire element.

What colors create trust? ›

05. Blue. Blue is one of the most popular colours in web design – and for good reason. You see blue on a lot of websites because, to put it simply, it is the colour of trust.

What color means creativity? ›

Yellow. Yellow is the emotional color. It represents creativity, friendliness, optimism, and confidence. Incorporate yellow when you want to stimulate positivity, creativity and happiness.

What is the most attractive color for a logo? ›

Blue is by far the most popular choice of logo color for these companies. It's easy to understand why blue logos are such a popular choice. Blue is an inoffensive color, a safe but sophisticated hue.

Why is color important in marketing? ›

In marketing, colors can be a powerful tool used to influence reactions and responses in your audience. The psychology of colors explains that specific colors can trigger certain emotions and moods in people. While some colors can trigger urgency and alertness, others can make the audience feel calm or even nostalgic.

What colors make customers want to buy? ›

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.

How does color affect marketing? ›

Different colors have different psychological effects on consumers – red encourages appetite, blue provides a sense of security, green stimulates harmony, orange promotes enthusiasm, purple is associated with royalty, and so on.

How is color used in design? ›

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.

Why is color so important? ›

Color can sway thinking, change actions, and cause reactions. It can irritate or soothe your eyes, raise your blood pressure or suppress your appetite. When used in the right ways, color can even save on energy consumption. As a powerful form of communication, color is irreplaceable.

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.

What is the most eye catching color combinations? ›

Our top 10 best color combinations
  • Black and white. A top “color” combination. ...
  • Leaf green and Yellow. ...
  • Baby pink and blue. ...
  • Cool greys and blues. ...
  • Pantone's Classic Blue with white. ...
  • Pink and grey. ...
  • Pink and black. ...
  • Purple and yellow.
31 Jan 2020

What is the most beautiful colour? ›

Studies reveal that red is the most attractive colour to both men and women but, curiously, the two genders are attracted to the same colour for different reasons. Women are attracted to men wearing red because, according to one study, it sends signals of status and dominance.

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. All together, they form what's called a color wheel.

What is the most commonly used color? ›

WHAT ARE THE MOST POPULAR COLORS IN THE WORLD? A worldwide survey reveals that blue is the most popular color in 10 countries across four continents. Yet a new YouGov survey conducted in 10 countries across four continents shows that one color — blue — is the most popular across the board.

What are the 6 complementary colors? ›

Complementary Combinations
  • Red and green.
  • Blue and orange.
  • Yellow and purple.
  • Yellow-green and red-purple.
  • Red-orange and blue-green.
30 Jan 2020

What color allows designers to match colors? ›

Color theory
QuestionsAnswers
32Who developed the concept of 'color of paint' that states all colors are mixtures of red, yellow, and blue pigments?Tim Brown
33Which color system allows designers to match the colors irrespective of the equipment used for the color production?RGB
45 more rows

What are the 3 monochromatic colors? ›

Components of the Scheme

There are three main components of a monochromatic color scheme: Hue - a particular color. Shade - a darker version of a particular color. Tint - a lighter version of a particular color.

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.

Why is color theory so important in graphic design? ›

Knowledge of the various sections of the colour wheel allows us to see where different hues and saturations sit and in turn helps us understand which colours work together to create a tasteful palette! Choosing colours that work well together is one of the pillars of premium graphic design.

How do graphic designers mix colors? ›

Color basics

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. All together, they form what's called a color wheel.

Videos

1. How to use colors in web design
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2. How to use color as a branding element on your website
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3. Give Your Website a Perfect Color Scheme, Fast & Easy
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4. Color Psychology In Web Design
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5. How to pick the right colors for your website or app | UI/UX design tips
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