Choosing Website Colours Part 1

website coloursby Gail Breese


Colour has been important to the human race for centuries.

It's been used to differentiate tribes, cultures and status.

It's been used symbolically to represent love, evil and danger.

It can evoke a mood: happy; frightened; angry.

The power of colour can be unnoticed because it is used so extensively in our daily lives. Intuition regarding colour can differ between people. The right or wrong choice of colour combinations can be the difference between a good or bad experience for your visitors.

Imagine visiting a website that is all black text on a white background. All the information is laid out clearly. After a few paragraphs, or columns, you might become inured to the bland layout.

Imagine another site, full of colour, graphics, and bouncing images - and sound that starts  automatically, and which you can't switch off! If you want your visitors to leave in droves, this is the site design for you!

Of course, neither of these are what a well-designed site should be like. But before you decide you want a website that is predominately pink, it's a good idea to know for whom your site is intended - and whether it is to be purely informational, or is to be fun.

We grow up absorbing subliminal information about colour. Childhood picture books with their bright primary colours are stimulating for a young child just learning to see the things around them. For a teenager or adult, a book that has illustrations and/or photographs, would have a more subtle colour scheme, depending on the book's content. Generally, the same rules apply to websites.

Using colour

Without going too deeply into the whole gamut of colour use, there are a few points I'd like to mention here.

The colour red can appear in a variety of ways depending on its chroma: intensity, strength and value. For example, it can be light or dark, warm or cool. It can be made to be dominant or passive in the design.

With the addition of other colours, it is the balance between these colours that create a pleasing effect.


The most important elements on the page are more visible when they contrast with a background colour or image. Naturally, your logo and the page headings are important elements in the design and the choice of colour for these is vital.

Conflicting cultural and symbolic colours

When choosing a colour scheme for your site, make sure that there is no doubt as to what it represents. For example, purple is a colour that people either love or hate. Its contrasts in symbolism include evil and spirituality; passion and death. It also symbolises mourning and has been used as the colour of royal garments. So with your website being truly world-wide, it is wise to consider how the viewers from different countries and cultures would perceive the information in the design.

Of course, the choice of colour is paramount - but like a room decked out with floral wallpaper, multi-striped furniture, polka-dotted carpet, geometric curtains and an abundance of pictures on the walls, the room can become a visual overload.

Remember to relieve the viewer with areas that are relaxing to the eye. It is called white space and it balances the overall design. Of course it doesn't have to be white, it can be a colour of low intensity which gives coherence to the rest of the design.

Note how the colours in the site I created for this client invoke a mood:


© Gail C Breese, 2009


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