Color, colour. Po-tay-to, po-tot-o. What’s in a name?
Web design is deeply tied to corporate identity and branding, and in all of those a solid color palette is very important. It’s another one of those design details that separates the hurried & hasty from the polished & trustworthy, and in part this is likely due to color needing an experienced eye to curate. There is simply no substitute for an experienced eye for color who knows the trends as well as when to ignore them completely.
Why Does Color Matter in Web Design?
If you’ve painted a room then you know the wall of chips at the home store paint department. Not only are there umpteen shades of taupe, but they all have silly names. If there are other people in your household, I’ll even venture to bet that you’ve been involved in a serious discussion (and sometimes argument) over these paint colors.
Come on, this is important! Do you want the Camel or the Gingerbread? Look at me, this is serious, we have to pick out the right one!
There are three things at play here. First, when you’re choosing a color that will have some permanence (like wall paint or your corporate colors) you want to make sure that you won’t tire of it in the near future. You also want to make sure it’s going to look good on the wall or when you get the stationary sets back form the printer. And lastly, you want to feel good about why you chose this color.
The colors you choose will set the stage and set the mood for your company’s image and brand experience. It really does matter! We have deep mental associations with colors, some of which is from the natural world but others which are cultural. The west wears white to a wedding but in Asia brides often wear red. So which color evokes the bridal experience? Well both, of course, just in different places. But many things are more consistent, like a blue ocean or a green leaf. This is a perception of color we all share (color blindness not withstanding).
Setting the Design’s Look and Feel
Let’s go back to those paint names. I know it sounds silly, but do you remember the name of any paint color you have ever purchased? I bet that you can recall at least one. As a designer I can recall many, and I bet you can get a mental picture of what the walls I painted in the past decade might look like:
- Celtic Gray
- Toasted Cashew
- Smooth Stone
I’m pretty sure I’m not just one weird web designer with instant recall of paint colors over ten years either. Haven’t you ever been to someone’s house and they note for you the color they put on the walls? “This room we did Dove Gray, and this one over here in Swiss Mocha.” It’s also probably very psychologically scintillating to think about why we’re choosing these colors. (Why am I buying mostly neutrals? Could you tell that from the above list? Did I need more hugs as a child? Hmmmm…)
You can really set a mood and influence thoughts by the colors you choose. Are they fiesty and firey? Smooth and tranquil? If your business is a bank, should you go with edgy colors or “safe” standard banking colors (navy blue again), or should you break from the pack with a single color (ING Bank comes to mind in bright orange)? No matter your choice, you could apply all different color schemes to the same underlying design and split test them. I guarantee your users will all walk away with very different perceptions of the brand.
Talking About Color
It’s a good idea when you’re commenting on web design to name the colors as you see them fitting into the world. Further the narrative and the company’s desired identity. If we are working on an outdoorsy website, why say “green” when we can call it Pine Needle Green or Hunter Green? You’re really getting in tune with the values of the customer (and company) when you dial in the color correctly.
You’ll also want to know about the color hierarchy when going over your web design. There will be a color palette (often times explicitly created as part of the logo process) with a main color and a selection of accent colors. If you don’t like the bright red that your web designer is showing you on a mockup, try to refer to it as the main color or as the accent color. They will like that you speak their language. They will be only too eager to help find a new accent color that you like better. After all, the point of an accent color is to “zag” and grab attention, to be used in small amounts.
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