Color Psychology: Colors and Their Effects in Web Design

8 Min.
Colour psychology: Colours and their meaning & effect in web design

Color theory and the strategies based on it provide a basic foundation for creating harmonious designs. But what psychological effects do your choices have? Is it possible to address your target your audience even more specifically through colors?

Colors play an important role in our daily lives. For creative people, in particular, colors take up a large part of your daily work. Small color changes can make a big difference. But the symbolism of colors is also important for the rest of the population. When was the last time you were "red with rage", "blue in the face" or "green with envy"? 

All languages have associations with colors and use them unconsciously on a regular basis. If someone is described as being "blue" in English, for example, we understand is being melancholic or sad. In German, on the other hand, being blue means a person is drunk.

As you see, cultural characteristics play a not insignificant role in color psychology. That's why it's strongly recommended to read up on the cultural meaning of colors when designing for an international market. You can find a small overview here.

How colors work: Color psychology with positive energy

Dealing with color theory and color psychology is an absolute must as a web designer. With the choice of color, you ultimately determine your target group. However, it's worth breaking with stereotypical color assignments, questioning gender marketing - and celebrating social diversity.

Statistics on purchasing behavior

Carlfritz.net has compiled some interesting numbers for us:

  • More than 90 percent of purchasing decisions are determined by visual factors. 84.7 percent of respondents are most influenced by the color of the product.
  • Consumers make purchase decisions unconsciously during the first 90 seconds. The color of the article contributes about 62-90 percent to this decision. 
  • Colored ads get 40 percent more attention than colorless versions.

Colors and emotions

Color theory in web design

The company emotivefeels provides a fascinating and instructive journey through the different worlds of color and the emotions associated with them.

Effect according to temperature

Colour psychology: Colours and their meaning & effect in web design
A warm color palette(source)

Warm colors have the property of being invigorating and active. However, if used too dominantly or distributed in an unharmonious way, they can also create restlessness. You can use these properties to your advantage as these colors directly catch the eye, e.g. sparsely and deliberately used as a call-to-action. 

If you use too much red and yellow in your designs, it can lead to your actual message getting lost and users being irritated.

Colour psychology: Colours and their meaning & effect in web design
A cold color palette(source)

Cold colors, in contrast, have a calming and serious effect. The cold colors, some of which are also derived from warm colors, can have the properties from both warm and cold colors. Green, for example, often has a calming yet vibrant effect. Pure purple tones, on the other hand, stand out and seem rather "loud".

Colour psychology: Colours and their meaning & effect in web design
Cold colors in use(source)

Psychological effect of colors

Yellow

Yellow is the color the human eye perceives first. Gastronomy and retail particularly like to use yellow because the color can emphasize or intensify feelings of hunger. Yellow also stands for summer feelings and good mood. We associate it with youth, lightness, optimism and openness.

We also associate yellow with discounts and discount purchases, however. A product with this color can therefore easily be judged as "cheap".

Colour psychology: Colours and their meaning & effect in web design

CeativeSpark use yellow on their homepage as a color for call-to-actions as well as a contrasting color to the white background. Their website looks young, modern and energetic.

Red

Red attracts our attention. Red also stands for activity and a mood of departure. Objects and elements in red appear spatially closer than other objects. Moreover, we've been trained since childhood to recognize red as a signal and warning color. 

We associate red with very different qualities. Thus, it represents the color for danger and for passion in equal measure.

Colour psychology: Colours and their meaning & effect in web design

The website of Five/Four website looks confident, energetic and authentic thanks to the use of red and bold typography.

Orange

Orange is supposed to inspire confidence and lead to impulse buying. Furthermore, we associate orange tones with creativity, optimism and joie de vivre. In addition, orange, like yellow, also stimulates the appetite. Composed of yellow and red, it is also said to have energetic properties.

Colour psychology: Colours and their meaning & effect in web design

The telecommunications provider Orange has not only made orange its logo color, it's also used the color for its company name. As a contrast to the orange, a lot of black is used in their design. This makes Orange look not only modern but also serious.

Green

Among other things, green is the color of money. Green can increase the purchasing power of your customers. An article from epson.at (in German) also states:

Green is in the middle of the color spectrum and is therefore the most balanced color. When the world around us is green, it represents water and healthy plant life. In such an environment, we instinctively know we're not in danger. We feel safe and can shop with a secure feeling.

Colour psychology: Colours and their meaning & effect in web design

GoSimple's branding feels authentic as the name matches the visual design and color scheme. While the font, logo and illustrations are kept minimalistic, the green appears lush, fresh, vibrant and healthy.

The product range is additionally divided into those for women and for men - a clear use of gender marketing. Here, a further distinction was made: a sunny, young yellow for women and a serious blue for men.

Colour psychology: Colours and their meaning & effect in web design
Colour psychology: Colours and their meaning & effect in web design

Blue

Blue stands for relaxation, serenity, calm, freedom, depth, loyalty and longing. This color is rather unsuitable for the food industry because blue tones have an appetite-suppressing effect. Blue is statistically the color most often used for logos and corporate identity. Blue is perceived as serious, honest and safe. In addition, we associate blue with summer, sea and travel.

Colour psychology: Colours and their meaning & effect in web design

Coinbase uses a lot of white and blue as a contrasting color. The design appears clear, tidy and serious. This makes the product look transparent and inspires confidence.

Pink

The color pink stands for gentleness, caring and love. Pink is stereotypically often used for products for girls or women, e.g. for toys, cosmetics and pharmaceutical products. Therefore, we also often associate this color with femininity. Less intense than red, it still attracts attention but has a softer effect and also stands for compassion.

Colour psychology: Colours and their meaning & effect in web design

Libenar appeals specifically to parents of young children. The soft pink tones appear innocent and gentle.

Purple

Many shades of purple stand for extravagance, exclusivity and luxury. They are often used for cosmetic products and luxury items. We also often see violet used in connection with spirituality.

Colour psychology: Colours and their meaning & effect in web design

Cadbury 's colors of purple combined with gold stand for affordable luxury. The color background of the products in yellow and light blue softens the luxury tone somewhat and make the brand appear family friendly.

Brown

Brown is a warm, natural color. According to laprinta.de, brown is "used for coffee, outdoor clothing or wood. This is because it stands for closeness to nature as well as for safety, security and reliability. It embodies down-to-earthness and is not as obtrusive as green, but slightly friendlier than gray or black."

Brown tones are commonly used in the home furnishings and food industries.

Colour psychology: Colours and their meaning & effect in web design

Brown is suitable for products that reflect this color such as coffee or chocolate, as with Portuguese Coffee. The advantage is clear, our senses are immediately spoken to and we can almost smell the coffee.

Black

Black is noble, modern and functional. We associate black with luxury and elegance, with seriousness, but also with sadness. Especially in combination with noble-looking colors like silver and gold, we often find black in high-priced products.

Colour psychology: Colours and their meaning & effect in web design

The bakery and confectioner's Verona have chosen black as the most present color even though it's not appetizing like yellow, red and orange. Despite these supposed limitations, the choice works well. Their website looks mysterious, luxurious and elegant.

White

We associate purity, innocence and perfection with white. White is especially popular in the wedding industry. White alone does not create emotions and takes on the attributes of the other colors.

Colour psychology: Colours and their meaning & effect in web design

The almost white background of Akson's website also appears transparent and honest. Minimalism doesn't distract from the actual product and instead brings it to the fore.

Gray

Gray is associated with professionalism and timelessness. Pure gray is the only color to which no emotions can be assigned from a psychological point of view. However, this doesn't mean that gray has no effect on us. The absence of color also has consequences. 

On its own, gray can sometimes seem incomplete and oppressive. In combination with other colors, gray often takes on their emotional effect. In web design, gray is often used in connection with seriousness and elegance. Gray appears simple and authentic and doesn't steal the show from the actual product. In addition, gray doesn't have to be mixed from pure white-black and can thus take on warm or cold attributes.

How to choose the perfect color for your business

Now you know the meaning of each color, how do you go about choosing the perfect color for your business? ConceptDrop stress the important of brand identity in their article. Here, the focus of your brand personality is in one of these five areas and usually doesn't cover more than two of them.

Colour psychology: Colours and their meaning & effect in web design

Once you know what attributes you can find in your brand, it's easier to find the colors that correspond to them. Here are some examples of well-known brands and their corporate colors:

Colour psychology: Colours and their meaning & effect in web design

After that, I recommend finding out what colors other companies with similar products are using. Competitor analysis gives you information about what has already proven itself successful - and what hasn't. However, simply choosing similar color combinations to be on the safe side isn't necessarily the right approach. 

It's important to learn from what's already there, but if your customers can't remember your brand because most of your competition is visually similar, then your product will be easily forgotten.

Standing out from the crowd is at least as important as finding the colors that appeal most to your target audience. You can use user testing, e.g. A/B testing, to check the success of existing designs.

Conclusion: Psychology of colors

The designs in this introduction also show that it's not just the right choice of color that's important, the overall concept has to be coherent. If you use confident and loud colors with a small squiggly font, for example, you send two different messages.

In addition to the general effects we attribute to colors, how a color is experienced also depends heavily on the individual. Extroverted and introverted personalities, for example, are said to have different color preferences - but again, this doesn't have to be the case. Gender and other demographic characteristics are also often differentiated. But in the end, we all have our very own, often unconscious, associations.

Maybe the color of your favorite blanket was yellow and that's why a certain shade of yellow makes you nostalgic. We associate different colors and tones with different situations. While for some the terracotta tiles in a holiday home represent the color for summer, others may have spent most of their holidays at the local pool and therefore associate bright blue with warmth and summer.

More about colors and their meaning:

Your questions about color psychology

What questions do you have about color psychology in web design? Feel free to use the comment function. Do you want to hear about new articles on web design & development? Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or sign up to our newsletter.

After studying Game Design and Creative Writing in the green Auckland region, Sonja Hoffmann specialized in web and app design and development. Her focus is on gamification and the exploration of user motivation and experience, coupled with a passion and curiosity for technological trends.

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