Optimizing color in digital design, Part I

The wrong website color choices can kill your brand

Colors trigger wide range of emotions

Color enriches our lives and affects us psychologically in countless ways. Different colors trigger a wide range of emotions, appetites and actions. In addition, there are important cultural variations in how colors are perceived. Yet despite the enormous body research on color, choosing the right colors for clothes, interiors, and, especially, digital design, is difficult. If you happen to wear discordant colors, it’s no big deal. However, selecting the wrong digital color pallet will undermine your organization’s marketing and brand image. Bottom line– studies confirm that about 50% of the people visiting a website don’t come back if the colors turn them off.

In this four-part article, I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way) about optimizing color in digital design.


The impact of individual colors–Part I

Before considering cultural variations (especially important for international organizations) and color combinations, here’s the first of a two-part overview of what we know about the impact of standard colors-

  • Red 

    Excites and is associated with love, energy and power. Case in point–red is commonly used in Las Vegas casinos because it makes people feel more confident and powerful, thereby encouraging risk, i.e., gambling. Scientific study also shows conclusively that red stimulates appetite and even increases blood pressure. It’s no surprise, then, that food companies like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Burger King include red in their logos and websites. –Because of its intensity, red has some negative associations, e.g., danger, bodily injury, fire, etc. This is why any financial or insurance company avoids anything but minimal touches of this color on their websites.

  • Blue

    Is the most popular color with more than half the world’s population, with a somewhat higher majority for men. Its calming effect no doubt accounts for much of its appeal. By contrast with red, blue encourages a sense of trust, calm, and stability–and so is the favorite for a wide range of organizations wanting to convey those values. This includes the tech, financial, medical and automotive industries. On the downside, overuse of blue can project coldness.

  • Black

    The strongest of the neutral colors, exists on almost every website, usually as the non-dominant color. If dominant, it conveys sophistication and elegance, but needs to be used artfully to avoid overwhelming the viewer. Interestingly, black is not a natural color. This is because what we perceive as black is actually a dark shade of grey (pure black would not reflect light at all).

  • White

    Like grey, is used primarily as a background color on digital media. While it’s associated with purity and virtue in Western cultures, the Chinese see it as the lifeless counterpart to red, which they associate with life and vitality.

In my next installment, I’ll complete this overview of the pros and cons of using individual colors in digital marketing. In Part III, I’ll discuss cross-cultural differences in color preference. In Part IV, I’ll introduce guidelines for choosing color combinations that increase conversion rates.

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