Optimizing color in digital design, Part II

What research reveals about color preference

In my last post, I underscored the critical importance of digital color selection with the finding that studies confirm 50% of people visiting a website don’t come back if the colors turn them off. I also provided information about the pros and cons of using red, the universal appeal of blue, how black (really dark grey) and white are indispensable in creating contrast.

Colors across the spectrum communicate different emotions, as follows–grey–balance and calm; green–peace and wealth; blue–trust and reliability; purple–creativity and wisdom; red–excitement and danger; orange–friendliness, confidence and risk; yellow–warmth and upliftment.

The following graphic is illustrative-


  • Grey

Projects seriousness, conservatism and maturity. On the downside, it is also associated with gloom, old age and sadness. However, in combination with a vibrant color like orange, grey can create a perfect complementarily. Because our senses are overwhelmed by so much screen-based sensory input and daily work/life stress, grey’s wonderfully calming effect makes is increasingly popular not only in digital design but also home decor. As a background color, it makes other colors pop with a sense of elegance that white doesn’t provide. –One logistical downside–grays read differently across screens and platforms. Even standard “websafe” grays often lack consistency from one screen to another.

  • Green

Conveys nature, harmony, healing, life, food and money–with universal use for eco-friendly products and services.Green is at the nexus between warm and cool colors, giving it great versatility. It incorporates the calming effect of blue with the energizing qualities of yellow. As such, it conveys balance and stability. Darker shades connote money/affluence.

  • Purple

Is traditionally associated with royalty and luxury, even to the point of decadence. Purple/lavender is distinctly more popular with women than men. Purple is a standard color choice for fashion and luxury goods.

Keep in mind that relatively unpopular colors like orange and brown can be used to great positive effect as background tones in combination with more popular dominant colors.

  • Orange

Is a bold color commonly associated with confidence, playfulness and danger. Some color psychologists claim that orange conveys risk-taking more powerfully than red. Because orange is so hard to miss, hunters and construction workers wear orange vests for greater visibility.

While not a popular color, it has been used with great results in the logos and advertising of companies like Home Depot (friendliness/excitement) and Harley Davidson (excitement/risk).

  • Yellow/Gold Yellow

Is the liveliest color, connoting happiness and intelligence. Psychologists have observed that yellow stimulates engagement and activates memory. However, yellow, like red, also conveys caution, and so is commonly used for warning signs and traffic signals.

  • Golden yellow

Is especially ‘salubrious,’ communicating joy and enrichment. Often used to highlight the important elements in digital design, yellow should not be used when trying to sell financial or luxury products. This is because men, in particular, perceive the color as childish.

And one more not on the chart-

  • Brown

Connotes earthiness, reliability and confidence. It’s sophisticated and conventional at the same time. While it has many positive associations, like orange, brown is unpopular as a stand-alone color. Interestingly, the same shade of brown when labeled mocha is much more popular in interior design.

In my next installment, I’ll discuss cross-cultural differences in color preference. In Part IV, I’ll introduce guidelines for choosing color combinations to increase your conversion rate.

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