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The Art of Psychology in Web Design and Branding

July 2018
group of people crafting creating paper flowers and leaves

Take an introductory course in art, and you’ll quickly encounter the elements of design: space, shape, line, and so on. Launch a website, and you’ll quickly put most of these elements into action to design your page. Of these elements, color is perhaps the most compelling because people have strong psychological associations with certain colors.

With a little background, you can use these psychological associations to make your website and brand as effective as possible. In this article we’ll cover all of the basics:

  • The concept of color psychology and why it’s important
  • How color can make or break a website design
  • What you can do to take advantage of color to make your website and your brand more effective

Easy as ROY G. BIV

The Study of Color Psychology: An Overview

Since the idea that color can affect our thoughts and perceptions burst onto the research scene a few decades ago, color psychology has captured the public’s imagination. There have been plenty of attempts in recent years to come up with a neat and tidy way to organize how people respond to specific colors, but that endeavor has largely failed. Why?

rainbow over a field
Vibrant colors, both in nature and online, command attention.

The more research we do, the more it looks like people’s perception of color, much like their perceptions of many other things, is heavily influenced by experience. Karen Schloss, a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley conducting research on color psychology in the early 2010’s, summarized it like this: “Your own personal preference is determined by all the entities you've encountered of that colour and how much you liked them.” Basically, if the color blue has been prevalent in your happiest memories--winning your Little League tournament, getting accepted to college, meeting your spouse--you’re likely to associate it with positive emotions. Someone else who has not had those experiences, however, might not.

Color in Web Design

So if you can’t just make your website yellow to make viewers associate your brand with happiness or red to convey power, what good is color in web design? A lot, actually. Even if most of the color associations that jump to mind aren’t necessarily universally true, it turns out that “perceived appropriateness” of a brand’s color scheme in relation to its product, service, or message still has a big impact on how people respond to it. Keeping this in mind, there’s a lot you can do with color to make your website as effective as possible.

color theory and website icons
This graphic from Gizmodo illustrates what colors the top 100 online brands use to define their web presence.

Using Color Psychology to Earn the Blue Ribbon

Stay on Message

What are you trying to say with your website? If your color scheme is a bad fit for the message you’re trying to get across, people are unlikely to trust your brand. For example, if your website is dedicated to selling children’s toys, the gothic feel of a black and red color palette is simply not going to be effective.

You Don’t Have to be the Brightest Crayon in the Box

People like brands that are easily recognizable. Your color scheme doesn’t have to be super vibrant or complicated to be compelling: just look at Apple, one of the most recognizable brands in the world. The current iteration of their logo is a silver apple, and their website is predominantly gray and white. In Apple’s case, this makes sense because they’re trying to convince you to buy their sleek, minimalistic products. Your color scheme doesn’t have to flashy as long as it’s appropriate.

crayons with different bright colors

Ground Your Color Associations in Reality

Think of popular color associations like stereotypes: they’re overly simplistic, and for that reason, not very accurate. For that reason, it’s much more effective to evoke colors that relate to an actual physical object associated with your brand. Many environmental companies, for example, make use of green to call to mind leaves and grass. Candy companies often use brown to remind you just how appealing a chocolate treat can be. It just makes sense. Associations like these, which are based in reality, make much stronger connections than anchoring your color scheme in blue just because you like the idea of your company being perceived as calm by the masses. This helps you establish a clear personality for your brand that is attractive to and easily understood by your audience.

You can take full advantage of the psychological associations of color by keeping these simple tips in mind. If you’re ready to create an amazing website that incorporates color and other elements to connect you with your audience, contact Responsival today for more information.

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