Website Design Colors – What Do they Say?


Color is omnipresent in our lives. Nature is the most talented artist – the colors we find in flowers and butterflies, in rainbows and rivers, in stones and gems are perfect. We can only mimic these colors to add more beauty to the spaces we live in, and we can only learn from nature which colors inspire positive feelings and which don’t. We can go even further and try to find that perfect color combination that will have the best impact and trigger a certain emotion. But it’s not easy without knowing the meaning of colors…

starry-night-van-goghDid you know that most of the reactions we have to colors are instinctual and universal? Well, they are, despite the different meanings colors impose on various cultures. Can we count on instinct on the Web? Of course we can…

In 1997 Cooper Marketing Group made a survey that determined that scarlet means power for 25% of the participants, whereas black was chosen only by 17%.

Fragility was represented by pale pink – 27% and white and pale lavender in equal proportions – 9%. Of course the results of such a survey could vary from country to country, but I doubt that the differences would be notable.

Considering that the Internet is an international stage companies that intend to become popular international brands should chose their corporate colors carefully. Take my advice for this, there are enough cases in the brands war to prove that colors are important and they can even generate trademark issues.

Professional designers already know how to use colors, but on a Web flooded by no-name design companies ready to take design jobs at the lowest prices, are there any warranties that the service provided will ensure at least a minimal compliance with the norms?

Effective website design will blend colors to tantalize and arouse interest in the visitors, to inspire and trigger response. While choosing the right colors is not that important for personal blogs, where the blogger will usually opt for colors and themes that represent his/her own taste, company and business blogs cannot just get away with “any” theme or color combinations.

redRed for example is strength, power, romance, love, courage, fire, goals, lust, sex, desire and love but is also war, danger, revolution and mourning. It is a strong, masculine color that stimulates the metabolism, increases respiration rate, appetite and also raises blood pressure.

You can easily see how excessive use of red might be annoying. If you use it in “buy now” buttons you will probably encounter two types of reactions: the user who will be afraid to click (European: red is danger, Hebrew: red is sin, South Africa: red is mourning) or the user who will click (China: red is a bridal color, also meaning luck and fame; Japan: red is life; India: red is purity – and so on).

Recent studies show that use of red in “call to action” buttons is no longer effective, therefore many companies have changed their approach. Norton uses now orange in its buttons, Amazon had orange on its “ad to shopping basket buttons for a long time already, Skype uses green and the list could go on.

Many companies managed to use red successfully to promote their brands – Coca Cola and Ferrari being the most relevant examples.

Using red in combination with other colors is also a tricky business. While black and red is already a classic combination, mixing red and blue is not always recommended, as the combination is very tiring for the eyes. Chose carefully the shades of green you use near red.

orangeUnlike red, that has both positive and negative connotations; orange is a color that can be used safely in any country, except in its dark form which could mean deceit and distrust.

In Europe this is the color of autumn and harvest, the favorite color of the Netherlands, representing Halloween in USA, sacred in Hinduism.

It’s a color that increases appetite, perfect in sales (used particularly in gastronomy and in the toys industry, but also used in business to business branding as a complement for blue). Orange increased oxygen supply to the brain and stimulates mental activity. Its main meanings are related to fire, energy, balance, goals, success, encouragement, health, warmth, cheerfulness and youth.

Despite these positive aspects, The Global Color Survey at and the Pantone Consumer Color Preference Study® dated June 1996 concluded that orange is one of the least favorite colors in America. With the new web trends we can assume that things have changed, although orange is often associated with “cheap.” Pale oranges – like apricot and peach – are sophisticated.

I mentioned above the use of orange in business to business and sales, particularly in relation with blue.

Another color that proved high success rates in combination with blue is gold, which is the best combination for selling to men. Gold is obviously associated to wealth, winning, prestige and mystic. If you want to sell to men you cannot fail by combining gold with navy blue. Stay away from yellow. Men perceive this color as childish.

Yellow is the color most visible to the human eye, it is also ideal for accents in study rooms and children rooms as it stimulates mental activity. Overuse could trigger anxiety. Yellow is the most pretentious color in design. It does represent the sun, intelligence, energy, joy, intellect, optimism, warmth and honor, but it could also mean betrayal, dishonesty, mourning, jealousy, deceit, disease, cowardice and weakness.

How do you know when yellow is honor and how do you know when is deceit? Well… dull yellow is the negative yellow, it’s decay, sickness, jealousy and deceit, while light yellow means happiness and joy. Displaying yellow in web design requires skill and talent.

The best way to go is to chose ivory or cream – both elegant and richer and warmer than white.

purplePurple is a tricky color: mourning in Thailand and Catholicism the colors is still royalty in Europe and has mystical meanings: third eye, psychic ability, hidden knowledge, high aspirations, dreams, unconscious, invisible, telepathy, deeper truth, magic. It’s the color best fit for luxury and richness – look how Kay uses purple in a very effective web design.

Studies show that purple is the preferred color for pre-adolescent children – so if this is your target, than bright purple is the color to use to promote children’s products. As I said above, it is a great color for feminine designs as well. Light purple and lavender can also mean nostalgia and sexual indecision, while dark purple can be sadness and frustration, despite its close relation to royalty and richness.

White is the purest of all, but it does mean death in so many cultures, including Chinese, European and Japanese where the white carnation is a treated as a tribute for the dead. Yet this is a positive color, inspiring purity, peace, simplicity, cleanliness and being associated often to innocence, virginity, light and faith. It’s perfect for medical products (clean) and it is the ideal background on the web, as it highlights other colors.

black-whiteBlack on the other hand is not such a good color for backgrounds – it’s very tiring for the eye and it diminishes readability of texts. Photography and art displays excellent on dark backgrounds (like black and dark gray). Over use of black can be depressing. Remember that this is the color of mourning and death and bad luck in Europe; Israel and Thailand. Combined with other colors black becomes sophisticated and elegant, enhancing the power of the color it complements. It is also associated with mystery, depth and space.

Pantone is the holy grail of “coloring” – and they are represented by Kwittken PR as well as the world’s largest PR agency, Edelman PR.



  1. Keefe von says

    Hi great article, I think you should expand your article into color themes as well. I think this is a great area for discussion.

  2. says

    I’m much more subdued when it comes to the majority of my blogs and websites, preferring darker shades of blue and light grays for my sites. Bright websites repel me!

  3. Mihaela Lica says

    That’s right Laura – I think that any color used in excess can be quite annoying. :)

  4. says

    Color is so important. Most agencies don’t consider it nearly enough.

    The only thing I’d disagree with above is the use of yellow or orange – certain shades of which, when used in excess, hurt my eyes.

    I’d also add that it’s important to pay attention to patterns. Too busy of a pattern definitely detracts from a message.

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