How to choose the best colour scheme for your website
They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But people do. The same applies to the online equivalent of a book cover – your website design.
Statistics suggest that it takes visitors just 0.05 seconds to form an opinion about a website. Other research studies have claimed that 38 per cent of people will stop engaging with a website if they begin to find the layout unattractive.
Many elements influence how appealing a user finds a website to be. If a website isn’t optimised to look and work well on a mobile device, for example, it’s thought that 40 per cent of people will abandon the site in favour of a different one.
Colour also plays a huge role in how your visitors respond to your website. In this blog, we’ll cover everything from the reasons why colour has such an impact on website visitors to how to choose the right colours for your own website, based on what you do and who you do it for.
Colour and the brain
Scientists have found that the colour of light has a physical affect on the human brain and has done so since the dawn of mankind. It’s thought that light received by the retina has an impact on a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which plays a big role in the secretion of hormones into the body.
The precise colour of light dictates the exact way the hypothalamus responds. For example, morning light, that contains more blue and green tones, is believed to stimulate the hormone cortisol, which has a motivating and waking effect on humans. It affects heart rate, mood and alertness. Too much of it can cause stress.
More research needs to be done into the exact ways in which the different colours in light affect the hypothalamus, but this much is clear – colour can and does affect emotions, energy levels, and physiological processes, too.
Colour and memory
As well as affecting the emotions, colour is thought to play a key role in memory, too. Multiple studies have concluded that colour can improve a person’s memory of an item. In the research paper The Influence of Colour on Memory Performance: A Review, psychologist Mariam Adawiah Dzulkifli concluded: “Colour helps us in memorizing certain information by increasing our attentional level. The role played by colour in enhancing our attention level is undisputable.
“The more attention focused on certain stimuli, the more chances of the stimuli to be transferred to a more permanent memory storage. As stated earlier, colours have the potential to attract attention.”
So what does this mean for website design? Get the right colour and your site and brand will be more memorable.
So, what are the best colours to use in website design?
The best colours for your website will depend on what you’re trying to achieve with it. There are a few factors to consider before you start anything…
Colours and age
Research from The University of Kentucky suggests that when people hit the age of 60, their ability to distinguish blue colours starts to decline. As people become pensioner age, they’re more likely to be able to see and therefore respond to yellows, oranges and reds. This is certainly something to bear in mind if you’re designing a website for a business that has older people as an important part of their clientele.
Colour and gender
In late 2017, a team of researchers from the University of Winchester conducted a study that investigated gender differences in colour preferences. The research found that women had a greater fondness for pink colours than their male counterparts and that they preferred cool pink colours over warmer ones.
The psychology of specific colours
Red for action
At the University of Leeds, there’s a Lighting Laboratory, where researchers investigate the effect of coloured light on human behaviour. At the end of 2017, the lab team carried out a series of tests to see how red and blue light affected the human body. The study concluded that red light could raise the human heart rate while blue light could lower it.
Blue – not for foodies
Research has shown that blue light can suppress appetite. People eat less when there’s a blue light over the kitchen table, for example. While this research applies to a real-world setting, it can’t hurt considering this fact if you’re designing a website for a catering company, restaurant, or food-related blog.
Yellow – ignore the mixed messages
Do a quick scan of the internet for articles on the way yellow affects the brain and you’ll probably come across the sentence ‘research shows that babies are more likely to cry in yellow rooms’.
Do a little bit more digging and you’ll discover that the source of this idea was not in fact a team of researchers, but an interior designer who was just speculating.
In 2017, CNN reported on 30 years’ worth of colour word association studies carried out by the Pantone Colour Institute. The article explained how the first words that consistently came into people’s minds when they saw the colour yellow were "sunshine", "warmth", "cheer", "happiness" and sometimes even "playfulness".
Green for inspiring creativity and eco-friendliness
A few years ago, a team at London’s Regent’s University set about investigating the effect of the colour green on the human brain. They discovered that university students displayed higher levels of creativity when they worked on green paper. A study by the University of Oregon also found that people are more likely to associate the colour green with eco friendliness over colours like red.
The practical considerations of using certain colours on a website
It’s not just human emotions and psychology you need to consider when you’re deciding on which colours to use in your website design. Colour can also contribute to the readability of a website. In 2000 researchers Shieh and Lin found that, out of 12 colour combinations, blue and yellow were the easiest to read, with purple and red combos were rated as the worst. Overall, though, it seems to be the contrast between colours that makes the most difference to the readability of a site. Black on white is easiest to read, but it’s not very compelling, memorable, or emotive, for all the reasons outlined above.
There’s a lot of hot air wafting around the internet about the impact on colours on humans. The above advice, however, is informed by research and studies. They’re not hard fast rules. However, these tips can certainly help you tailor a colour scheme for your website that makes it most relevant to your visitors, more memorable, and easier to use.