Basics about colours

Web design involves making a lot of decisions many of which circulate around the issue of which colours to use. Colours have an impact on our psyche and behaviour. Most people know about warm (red and orange tones) and cool (blue tones) colours but only few know that colours can do a lot more to us. Already in ancient Egypt people used colours as a therapeutic instrument and since Newton’s discovery in 1666 that when pure white light is passed through a prism it separates into all visible colours, we found out a lot more about their impact.

Colours can stimulate a sale or do the complete opposite. Colours also have different associations in different cultures, for example what is associated as pure in western cultures can mean death in others, but more about that later.

8% of the world population has some sort of colour blindness and by choosing the wrong colours your website is virtually unreadable for them

When talking about colours we must also talk about the basics of colour theory. Since this is a topic that fills libraries all around the world, we will only briefly talk about the three most important components: contrast, complementation and saturation.

Contrasting colours can be found in many ways, for instance in a contrast of hue (different colours, e.g. yellow and green or blue and red). They can have a contrast of value (different inherent values of colours e.g. yellow (light) and violet (dark)). Their contrast can be a contrast of saturation (a contrast of purity or intensity of colour e.g. bright red and dull burgundy). And for example, a contrast of temperature like blue (cool) and orange (warm).

Complimentary colours have a specific kind of contrast. It combines the contrast of hue and the contrast of temperature. Compliments are two colours directly across from one another on the colour wheel, like green and red.

Saturation basically means how pure a colour is, it is about the intensity and concentration, for instance how red a kind of red is. If you take out almost all the saturation of a red tone you end up with grey.

What also has to be said at this point is that eight percent of the population has some sort of colour blindness and by choosing the wrong colours your website is virtually unreadable for them. Generally speaking, it is advisable to make the text and its background of high contrast and to avoid green and red combinations.

Talking about marketing, colours can improve comprehension, learning and reading; for instance, adverts in colour are read almost twice as often as ads in black and white. With the information that colours also boost learning, they can become an advantage when it comes to understanding what a brand wants to be associated with.

The meaning of colours in different parts of the world

One of the most popular colours is red and for many it is a symbol of love, passion and heat. This though applies mainly to western countries. In China, red is the colour of good fortune and fertility, hence why people give away red envelopes(红包, hongbao) on Chinese New Year filled with money.

Black is much more universal and might just be the most universal colour there is. It is a colour that expresses evil, grief and bad luck. However, in most African countries black symbolises masculinity, maturity and age.

Green has a lot of different meanings and associations across different cultures. In the US the colour is associated with luck and prosperity, for Mexico green is associated with independence, China sees it as a colour for cheaters, the Japanese culture sees in green eternity and vitality and in middle eastern countries the colour is a symbol for wisdom.

Although content is important, the impact of choosing the right colour scheme cannot be neglected.

Netflix, Coca-Cola and Kellogg’s. The logos of all these companies shine in red. But what does red evoke in us? Red usually brings out strong emotions like love and passion but can also stimulate appetite and create urgency.

Facebook, Skype and Walmart present their logos in blue and for a reason: blue is associated with calmness, serenity and peace and with that it creates a sense of security and trust.

Purple as used by brands such as Crown Royal, T-Mobile and Yahoo evokes creativity and is often associated with royalty and wisdom while being soothing and calming.

So, what colour do you choose for your brand?

Every website has a colour scheme, usually these are the colours that are found in the main areas and are being used most frequently. As we have learned now, colours carry a lot of meaning. Although of course content is still more important, the impact of choosing the right colour scheme cannot be neglected.

Remember, no one is expecting you to reinvent the wheel but understanding the basics of the psychology of colours is a great prerequisite for an amazing website and good customer experience.

Our graphics team at El Taco Lab would love to chat to you and about whether your corporate colours are doing the right job for your brand. Contact us at for a free consultancy session!

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