Web Design Background

Colour Theory for Website Design

  • 8 min read
  • December 5, 2022
Colour Theory for Website Design

Colour theory for web design is an important tool but what is it and what impact does it have on both a website’s success and the end user?

When it comes to designing a website, one of the most important decisions to make is what colours to use.

Whilst this is often led by branding and existing colour schemes, it’s important that web designers think carefully about the colours they’re using together across a website. Why? Because get it wrong and you risk putting users off your website for good.

Harsh colour clashes and unflattering combinations can impact things such as the user experience of your website, the length of user sessions and most importantly, your conversion rate.

That’s why the KIJO experts use colour theory to dictate the colours and combinations we use within our client’s websites. In this article, we’ll explore what colour theory is and how it’s used to create a visually appealing and engaging web design

What Is Colour Theory?

Colour theory covers an array of aspects that we’ll explore more in this article but in its simplest term, it’s the interaction of colours through complementation, contrast and vibrancy. 

Colour theory for web design is a mix of science, emotions and psychology, all of which impact how humans see and respond to different colours and colour combinations. 

Understanding colour theory allows web designers to invoke certain feelings or reactions in users to help meet a website’s end goal. 

Colour Psychology in Web Design

Colour has one of the strongest abilities to make users feel something, more than any other aspect of design, but what emotions do certain colours provoke? 

Please note, some cultures view different colours differently, here we are focusing on Western colour associations and psychology. 

Warm Colours

Red – Red is one of the most stimulating colours on the whole colour spectrum. Its connotations with blood mean it’s seen as a strong and powerful colour choice. Often used to grab attention and signify danger, red is used across signage to issue warnings and important notices. Often error warnings on websites are in red. 

Orange – Orange is a fun, energetic colour that is often used to depict creativity and youthfulness. It’s used to create a sense of movement, confidence and enthusiasm. In terms of branding, it’s a popular choice for brands who want to portray a fun and vibrant brand personality. 

Yellow – Yellow is one of the most versatile colours available to designers. On the one hand, bright yellow invokes a sense of happiness and enthusiasm and is able to provide comfort without being boring. A darker shade of yellow however is often associated with danger and authority. 

Cool Colours

Green – Green helps to bridge the gap between warm and cool tones but is most often used as a cool colour. Green has a unique combination of the relaxing tones found in blue and the energetic tones of yellow that results in a balanced and stable vibe. Its strongest connotation is with nature and the environment but darker shades are also used to create feelings of jealousy and envy. 

Blue – Blue’s colour meaning varies depending on the shade used. Lighter tones create a sense of calm, serenity and relaxation whilst darker tones are often used to depict power and authority. It’s one of the most used colours on the internet and is often seen as the “smartest” hue. 

Purple – Purple has long been associated with royalty which is why the colour is often used to create a sense of luxury and wealth and is popular with high-end brands. It’s also seen to convey wisdom and whilst lighter shades can depict romance, darker shades are commonly used to create an air of mystery.  

Neutral Colours

Black – Black is the strongest of the neutral colours and appears on almost every website on the internet. Its neutral strengths make it a popular choice for fonts and text but when used as a standalone colour it presents images of power, status, elegance and sophistication. Of course black can also be used to depict evil and is also used to represent death. 

White – White is associated with purity, innocence and simplicity and commonly draws the least attention out of all the colours, hence why it is commonly used as a background colour. It’s fresh and has few negative connotations and its neutrality also means it works well with almost every other colour. 

Grey – Grey is often used to represent strength and balance and is a popular choice for brands who want to appear professional. It can also be used to create feelings of melancholy or sadness. 

Brown – On its own brown can be used to signify humility and for some has connotations with dirt and the outside world. Its most common use in web design however is to draw out other colours. The beige shade of brown in particular has the ability to take on the characteristics of surrounding colours, hence why it’s almost always used as a background colour.  

Tints & Shades

Tints and shades allow you to create a monochromatic colour scheme by adding black and white to base colours. Adding white to a colour allows you to create a tint whilst adding black will create a shade. 

Saturation, Hue & Lightness

Saturation refers to the intensity of a colour, increasing the saturation of a colour makes it richer or darker whilst decreasing it creates a more faded or lighter colour. “Light blue” or “dark green” both refer to the saturation levels of a colour.

A hue is the degree to which a colour can be described as similar or different to the colours of the rainbow. 

Lightness meanwhile describes the brightness of a colour when compared to pure white. 

Website Colour Schemes

Monochromatic Colour Scheme

A monochromatic colour scheme is made up of various tints, shades and saturations of a single base colour. Monochromatic colour schemes are cohesive but can be monotonous for users. 

Analogous Colour Scheme

Analogous colour schemes include three colours that sit next to each other on the colour wheel. The tonal similarities of the colours can give a united feel without feeling monotonous. 

Complementary Colour Scheme

Complementary colour schemes use two colours from opposite ends of the colour wheel. Because the two colours are so different they will often compliment each other and create an exciting colour scheme. 

Triadic Colour Scheme

A triadic colour scheme is created when you draw an equilateral triangle on the colour wheel and select the colours at the three points of the triangle. This will create an exciting yet balanced colour scheme. 

Tetradic Colour Scheme

A tetradic colour scheme uses four colours that are all equidistant from each other on the colour wheel. 

Using Colour Theory in Web Design

Complementation

Different colours don’t always have to clash, in fact often certain colours will work well together and complement each other. The best complementary colours are the ones that are opposite each other on the colour wheel. Complementary colours can be used together to create appealing colour schemes. 

Contrast

Every single shade of colour has an enemy, another colour that is its total opposite. Opposite colours will contrast against each other due to how different they are. Getting the contrast levels just right on a website is important. If the contrast is too low text will be difficult to read and if it’s too high it will be jarring and unappealing to users. 

Vibrancy

We’ve already spoken about how different colours can invoke different moods and emotions and the vibrancy levels of a colour help to determine which emotions that specific hue will create. Vibrant colours are a great way of catching the eye of users but it’s always best to combine them with more neutral tones to avoid being overbearing. 

Accessibility

The colours you choose to use will have an impact on the accessibility of your website. The two most important factors to consider are vibrancy and contrast. You need to ensure that everyone can read your content and enjoy your website, especially those with visual impairments who may struggle with contrasting or bright colours. 

And Finally…

As you can see, colour theory is an incredibly powerful tool when it comes to designing websites. Colour is often closely associated with the identity of your brand and goes a long way to creating an engaging and enjoyable user experience. 

Here at KIJO our team of web design experts use colour theory for web design day in, day out to ensure we are using colour to invoke the right emotions and create an enhanced online experience for our clients. 

To find out more about our work and how we can help you to create inviting and engaging branding and websites, simply contact us today. 

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