Choosing the Perfect Colors for Your Web Site

2003 Viki Nygaard

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When designing a Web site, most people give a lot of attention to two major factors: the design (graphics and logos) and the content. But what about the colors? This is one of the most important things to consider when designing your site. The colors of your Web site are important because they will define the mood and emotions of your visitors as well as reflect your identity and image branding.

Color is symbolism. We say someone who is jealous is "green with envy". Someone who is sad is said to be "blue". When we are angry, we "see red".

Colors affect us psychologically. They can stimulate our appetite or suppress it. They can make us happy, excited, angry or sad.

Let's take a look at colors and what they mean to your visitors. Then we'll discover the different color combinations and how they apply to your Web site.

Warm Colors

Red - Red is one of the most powerful and attention-getting colors. Red symbolizes passion and fire, love and lust. It has been proven to raise blood pressure and cause perspiration. Red reflects energy and can motivate an individual to take action. It can also symbolize war, violence, blood, and aggression. Pink, however, is the softer side of red. Pink is romantic, calming and feminine.

Orange - Vibrant and warm, orange is associated with autumn, pumpkins and Halloween. It inherits many of the traits of red, but is less passionate. Orange has been known to stimulate the appetite. As a citrus color, it can also symbolize health.

Yellow - Yellow symbolizes sunshine and warmth. It can mean hope, light and energy. On the other hand, it can mean weakness or illness, or symbolize cowardice.

Cool Colors

Green - Green signifies health and growth (vegetation) and wealth (money). Green symbolizes spring, renewal, and fertility. It can also mean jealousy or inexperience.

Blue - Blue is one of the most calming colors and is associated with the sky and the sea. It is considered to be a "safe" color and signifies intelligence, reassurance, and trust. Blue has also been known to be an appetite suppressant and can signify depression and sadness.

Purple - The combination of red and blue, purple is one of the most intriguing colors and symbolizes creativity. Purple is spiritual and mysterious. Deep purple is associated with royalty and richness while lavender is associated with romance and nostalgia.

Neutral Colors

Black - Black can represent power, elegance, and sophistication, but it can also represent death (Western culture), evil, anger and sadness.

White - White represents cleanliness, purity, and spirituality. It represents life and marriage in Western cultures, but it represents death in Eastern cultures.

Grey - Grey is the combination of black and white. It is a conservative color. Grey can symbolize security, maturity and reliability, but it can also signify gloominess and sadness.

Brown - We like to classify brown as a "special" color. Sometimes brown can be used as a neutral and sometimes as a warm color. Either way, brown represents credibility and stability, the hearth, home and the earth.

A Special Note About Using Colors on the Web

Although modern computers are capable of displaying millions of colors on the screen, Web design is limited to only 216 colors. The reason for this is that Mac computers and PC's both use completely different color palettes. However, they have 216 colors that are common to both. These 216 colors are considered "Web safe". Using the 216 Web safe colors means that your Web site colors will look fairly consistent on different computers (Mac or PC), different operating systems (Windows or Mac), as well as different browsers (Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator, to name two).

Choosing a Color Scheme

Once you understand colors and their connotations you are ready to begin choosing a color scheme for your site. But, where do you begin? Let's look at different types of color combinations.

Monochromatic color schemes use a single color. Differing values of the chosen color can be used to create the feel of different colors. Monochromatic color schemes are harmonious and peaceful. Using a single color creates unity and can help to create or tie things together.

Analogous color combinations use colors that are related, but not the same, to create visually appealing schemes. A selection of blues and purples, or reds and oranges create an analogous color scheme. Two or more colors can be used in an analogous color scheme however, one color is often used as a dominant color while others are used as accents.

Contrasting colors are complimentary and pleasing to the eye. Colors that are opposites create contrasting color schemes. For instance, yellow and purple or red and green are contrasting colors. Contrasting color schemes generally use a warm color and a cool color but it isn't necessary to use the startling and obvious combinations, like blue and orange. You might try beige and light blue or maroon and forest green to create very pleasing and contrasting combinations.

A word of caution concerning contrasting colors. Generally, the eye has difficulty focusing on contrasting colors at the same time. Orange type in a blue background is very difficult for your viewer to read. Use contrasting colors for your accents and avoid setting strong contrasts as background and type colors or take them down a notch. A light orange, almost cream, dark blue background is much more readable and still a contrasting combination.

Triadic color combinations are comprised of three opposing colors. Red, yellow, and blue would be a triadic color scheme. Like contrasting color combinations it is not necessary to use full strength, startling combinations to create effective triadic color schemes. Using a more subdued value of one or more color can help to create greater subtlety, harmony and readability for your site.

It can be a lot of fun to choose colors. Color is all around us, from nature to our cars, furnishings and the multitudes of designs we see on the Web and in print. Look around at the colors that other designers have used. Ask yourself what you like about them, or what you don't like. Nature is an unbeatable resource. Flowers and birds, mountains and deserts all provide fabulous color combinations. When you see a color combination that thrills you jot it down and save it for the future. You never know when you may be in need of a fabulous color scheme for a new site or an update.

Viki Nygaard is President of Mount Evans Designs specializing in professional Web design. For those businesses who insist on quality but must maintain a budget, visit today. You'll be thrilled with the exceptional designs and the affordable rates!