The Power of Colour

Colour is ubiquitous. Whether ‘red with rage’ or ‘feeling blue’, we often describe human attitudes and emotions by association with different hues. And these aren’t just chosen arbitrarily. Empirical, scientific evidence affirms that specific shades evoke positive, negative or mixed emotional responses from people. Did you know, for example, that we subconsciously construct 90% of our judgments around colour alone? But how often is it that we stop to analyse which colours have a specific sway over our decisions?

It goes without saying that it within our nature to feel drawn to things that we find visually appealing. Of course, when it comes to web design, a core objective is to make a user’s first impression a positive, lasting on. But the psychology of colour in our industry goes far beyond aesthetics.

62-90% cite colour as the sole influence on their decision making

According to the ‘Impact of Colour in Marketing’ study, it takes just 90 seconds for somebody to formulate an initial judgment of a product or person. Perhaps even more astounding is that 62 – 90% of people cite colour as the sole influence on their decision-making.

Understanding the psychology of colour from a branding perspective

As with all marketing disciplines, the first step is strategy. Knowing your objectives, target market and the core message that you’re trying to communicate to them is key – particularly in web design. In Western cultures, the Middle East and Asia, purple is associated with virtue, wealth and nobility. In Brazil however, the same colour signifies mourning and death. Understanding the cultural and social variables of colour psychology is crucial in gauging how your company’s website will be interpreted on both a local and international level. Such considerations are pivotal when working with a dual, or even, tri-lingual website. They don’t just call it the World Wide Web for fun!

Whilst it’s difficult to universally translate colours into specific feelings, there are broader messages that marketers can leverage to influence consumer behaviour. For example, soft drink mega-giant Coca-Cola has become synonymous with red, its trademark colour.

Often associated with a sense of urgency and passion, utilising the vibrant shade as a hero colour is a bold choice. Scientifically speaking, the colour red has proven to increase heart rates, appetite and blood pressure. But as they say, bold favours the brave. It’s clear that red has been utilised as a secret weapon in many a marketer’s arsenal to attract attention for the right reasons. It’s no coincidence that some of the biggest consumer brands out there are characterised by the colour – take McDonald’s, KFC, Virgin and Vodafone to name just a few.

The colour red has proven to increase heart rates, appetite and blood pressure

But when it comes to web design, the power of colour psychology can be dissected even further. Research consistently shows that both men and women rank blue first place as their favourite colour. As well as contributing to perceptions of trustworthiness, dependability and fiscal security, it’s also the shade that least affects colour-vision deficiencies – meaning that the majority of online audiences can see blue in its full capacity. It should therefore come as no surprise that it holds top position as the most popular colour for brands. Which industries come to mind when you consider the above traits? Take a look a social media kingpins Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, or banking and finance behemoths Barclays, Halifax and Paypal. We spot a trend!

Be it gender, geographic location or societal values, whatever you decide to base colour in your web design on, it’s important to know how you can advance conversions with an appropriate choice.

Spinning the colour wheel

Once you decide on your target audience, you need to turn your attention to the design of your site. Colour can be divided into three categories using a simple colour wheel: contrasting, complementary and vibrancy. Whilst there isn’t an ideal number of hues that should be used, as a rule of thumb, sticking to three or four colours is a good starting point. Few want to be confronted with a visual bag of skittles online – mixing multiple colours risks overwhelming visitors, which doesn’t make for a pleasant nor relaxing user experience.

In web design, three main areas should stand out: the background, the text and the call-to-action buttons. Yet this trio of elements must also work harmoniously together. An important design concern is creating a background and foreground, with enough contrast to make content legible. This is a fundamental aspect in any web design process. The background often holds the theme of the website, is the first element to load for a user and often acts as a canvas and foundation upon which everything else appears.

When it comes to content legibility, it’s crucial to make text and links as easy to read as possible – as not to give users reason to look elsewhere. A basic rule that can be executed effectively, is to increase visual contrast, by utilising lighter text on a darker background – or vice versa. Interactive components such as links should be made distinguishable from the main body copy and indicate clearly that they are clickable via specific cues – such as a colour change upon hovering, or once the link has been clicked.

A recent study found that red buttons generated 21% more clicks than green

This applies to calls-to-action too – where every click counts. And end goal for any web designer is to enable the user to differentiate easily between static content and points at which they are expected to take action. It’s also key to communicate exactly where that action will take them. Standout buttons can engage users and guide them through your website’s interface, meaning that they must be dynamic and stimulate site visitors to convert. So the question is – which colour is most effective for this purpose? HubSpot recently conducted an experiment with the aim to put such queries to rest. They found that using a red button generated 21% more clicks than using a green. Given that green is widely recognised as a signal of wealth and positivity, in comparison to the fiery connotations of red, this came as quite a surprise. What can we take from such findings? Well, that what works for one company’s website, may not work for another – so it’s important to test, test and test again to find your winning formula.

Choosing a colour may seem like a minor choice in the grand scheme of your wider business decisions, but evidence supports that it affects more than just the visible aesthetics of your online presence. Colours can be a game-changer in terms of how consumers view your brand and should be a key component when it comes to plotting the design of your website. Time and time again, we advise that generalising your marketing efforts are bad practice – and generalising your website’s colour palette is no different.

Mark Warman - Founder & Digital Consultant Administrator

With a background in design, technology and user experience, I help businesses adapt. Adapt to the changing needs and expectations of their digital audiences.