CX Insights

The Power Of Colors On The Web

5 min read

Colors are powerful. No doubt that everyone who ever put a little thought in the subject has figured this out. However, I’m not talking about how red stands for energy and green has rather calming effects. There is quite some literature on the meaning of colors and for those who want to catch up on that I recommend the eBook A Guide to Color Symbolism by Jill Morton.

Instead I want to focus on the ‘why’, the ‘when’, and the ‘how’: Why do colors influence people? When do colors influence people? And how can we use the power of colors for our own purpose?

Figure 1 – Visible electromagnetic radiation between violet (380 nm) and red (760 nm)

Why do colors influence people?

There are several reasons why colors have such an impact on us. To begin with, there is a psychological context in which colors function. Colors arouse different emotions in us, depending on our previous experiences and personal preferences. These preferences are not linked to anything rational. For example, at the same time, my favorite color can be the least favorite color of someone else.

Colors also have symbolic functions. Symbolic functions are similar to psychological functions, but they are more abstract. Based on experiences, we build up associations with different colors. While the psychological aspect of a color just makes us feel something, the symbolic function makes us feel something because we link it to a significant experience.

Colors have a cultural context. Depending on the culture we live in, colors can be connected to different meanings. Cultures teach us what colors stand for. These definitions are shaped through different values, believes, and lifestyles. The cultural context of colors is an important aspect when using colors in an international and multicultural environment. For example, Western cultures associate the color white with purity and brides wear it for their wedding. In Asian cultures, mostly in China, the color white stands for death. Chinese women wear the color red for their wedding.

Figure 2 – Color perception differs depending on culture.

Colors can be attached to political opinions. As colors can have a symbolic function, they can stand for concrete opinions. Political parties use colors to identify themselves. These colors come to stand not only for the organisation but also for their political point of view, their values, and beliefs.

Colors have a traditional meaning. Colors have meanings that are simply bound to their own tradition. Be it that red is the color of blood and therefore naturally functions in an alerting way, or that blue used to be expensive in production and therefore stands for luxury and superiority.

Last but not least, the impact colors have on us depends on the creative context they are used in. In combination with each other, colors change their function and significance. They can become more or less dominant, more or less intense, more or less meaningful.

When do colors influence people?

According to a marketing research on colors, 80% of visual information is related to color. In the online world, most information is presented to us in a visual way. Imagine, there was no color on the WWW and all websites were a mixture of black, white and different shades of grey. How boring, right? We like colors, we want colors, we need colors! Why?

Colors are what makes a design interesting, what catches our attention, and what shapes our opinion. Colors influence people whenever any kind of decision needs to be made. Whether we exhaustively elaborate on a decision, or make it based on inner instincts, we depend on both factual information and emotions. As we see above, information is for the most part related to colors and so is the UX of a website.

Bottom line, whenever users visits our website, the colors we use will influence them. Colors will influence what people think of us, if they find their way around, and most of all if they do what we want them to do on our website.

How can we use the power of colors for our own purpose?

We can use colors on our website for several reasons. Colors influence how users perceive us, how they act on our website and how they react to what we offer them. In the following I would like to offer a list of six things to remember when working with colors on the web:

    • Define your main target group and research what different colors mean to them based on their symbolic, cultural, and political background.
    • Think of yourself and define how you want to be perceived by your users and customers. Choose colors that represent this picture for your target group.
    • Make sure the colors you choose can be displayed correctly on any digital device your users might use to visit your website. While we can rely on Pantone to match all our printed matters, online we depend on the inconsistent display of RGB colors.
    • Think carefully about what to use colors for on your website. Do you want to trigger emotions? Do you want to highlight information? Do you want to influence actions?
    • Don’t use too many colors to avoid overstimulation. Try to manage with no more than three colors. Colors on the web suggest one primary, one secondary, and one highlight color.
    • Use colors consistently. As much as colors can work for you, they can work against you as well. Try to not confuse your users by using colors inconsistently.

In sum…

Colors have quite some impact on us and the decisions we make. Colors differ in their meaning, based on their psychological, symbolic, cultural, political, traditional, and creative context. Especially in visual environments like the Web, colors play a central role for our judgment and actions. Keep in mind, to use colors for both aesthetic and practical reasons. The aesthetic quality of your website is high if people like your design, if they can identify with your identity, and if they remember you and your message. The practical quality reveals if people find what they are looking for on your website, and if they perceive it as convenient and satisfying. For more information on how colors work, check out this cool resource from Canva on the color wheel and color theory.

Sabina Idler
Sabina was technical writer & UXer @Usabilla for 5 years before she started her own UX research and consultancy firm; UXkids. With UXkids, Sabina leverages her academic research expertise, know how in child development, and strategic vision to help companies build successful digital products for children. You can connect with Sabina on Linkedin or follow her on Twitter.