What Child's Play Can Teach About Choosing Color Schemes.

By Nicole Hyman


Mar 25, 2015



Almost everything you need to know about being a designer you learnt as a toddler. But as an adult you unlearnt all those skills. You stopped coloring outside the lines, put the finger paints away and banished your doodles to the margins for your eyes only. We’re all guilty of it.  And our website designs suffer because of it. Nowhere is this truer than when it comes to selecting a color scheme. While a tantrum-like explosion of color has no place online, there is a lot to be learnt from the carefree self-expression most of us left-behind in childhood.


Children aren’t afraid to play with color. They happily experiment with wild abandonment. They mix colors without ever worrying about how to match them. All designers could learn a thing or two from this creativity. And while a theoretical understanding of color is important, nothing beats splattering pixels across a computer screen. I’m particularly fond of the Adobe Kuler color palette, a treasure trove of pixel fun.


What Child's Play Can Teach About Choosing Color Schemes.


But it’s more than just for the fun of it. Playing with colors helps shape a website.  Color choices affect the look and feel of a design and also influence how a brand is perceived. We’ve all stumbled upon sites that are so poorly designed we close them before really exploring. And color choice can make all the difference.


When used consistently, a color scheme helps build brand identity in a similar way to a logo. And you thought it served no other purpose than making things look pretty. Tsk, Tsk. You’ll be interested to know that most well-established companies with an offline presence will use any colors already associated with their brand when designing a company website. Why, you ask? Because color is powerful. And more than anything, it helps newcomers to a website feel at home in a way that nothing else ever could.


And if that isn’t enough to catch your attention, maybe this will. Drumroll: Enter the facts and figures. Darker color schemes tend to have higher page views per visit and longer time on site than lighter color schemes. Specific colors were also found to affect bounce rates with sites with predominantly yellow having a bounce rate of 40.7 percent, while predominately purple sites were found to have bounce rates of 45.7 percent. Prominent colors also impact website traffic with red causing traffic to decrease by 1.35 percent and purple causing a 1.6 percent increase in traffic. Bottom line: this is serious stuff, so best you pay attention.



Brand Building: Because All the Cool Kids are Doing it.


Because all the cool kids are doing it.


Take a look at any of the top brands and you’ll soon see what we’re on about. Color builds brands and there’s no way around that. It’s not by coincidence that Wal-Mart's website, relies heavily on the blue used in retail locations and all marketing materials. After all this is what a loyal customer would associate with the brand. Has the penny dropped yet?


Then there’s Bank of America. Another classic website which uses the U.S. national colors of red, white and blue. Now, as much as you may love Uncle Sam, that’s not something you do just because. It’s sneaky. It’s strategic. And yes, it helps us connect the dots and associate what those colors stand for with the brand.



Meaning Creation: There’s More to Color Than Meets the Eye.


Color me pink, that’s pretty much the story of my childhood. Everything from my Barbie’s dream ride to her killer stiletto shoes were … you guessed it… pink. And people wonder why I’m an ardent feminist?! My older brother on the other hand, had Lego. Lego of almost every color imaginable, except pink. When I think back on this, I cringe. But perhaps, there may be something to this after all.


So I did some delving. It turns out that the average consumer makes up their mind about a product within the first 90 seconds. 90 SECONDS! And you know what makes the biggest impression in those 90 seconds? Not the product itself or the clever marketing copy. But color. A whopping 62 - 90 percent of that initial impression is made by the color alone.


You’re probably wondering what this all has to do with my pretty story about Barbie and Lego. Well, it’s not just that color affects our purchasing decisions. Allow me to pull the gender card here. You see, color affects different genders purchasing decisions differently. Is that a gasp I hear? And this is the part where I get really cheesy and tell you: But wait, there’s more!


Sorry to burst your bubble Mattel, but pink actually isn’t all that it’s made out it be. It seems that Barbie would have been just as popular if her car had been blue, purple or green. Those are the colors that really speak to women. And contrary to what every one of my brother’s blue toys may have told me growing up, the no-nos for women are actually orange, brown and gray.


What about men, you ask? Well, it seems Lego had it right with their blue, green and black pieces. Looking back on those little plastic bricks my brother loved so dearly, it all makes sense now. It wasn’t just that there weren’t any pink pieces. I also never saw brown, orange or purple bricks. And no, it has nothing to do with some gender bias against those colors. Simply put, those are no-go colors for men. Men tend to hate them.


Meaning Creation: There’s More to Color Than Meets the Eye


Now this is where things get really interesting. You see, Barbie and Lego aren’t the only ones. Almost every company you can think of got the memo and is putting it to good use in some way. Take Rimmel as an example. As a product for women, it avoids all the no-nos. You won’t see an ounce of orange, brown or gray on the site. What you will see are blues and purples. Because, more than a pink Barbie, that’s what women want. And it’s no different for men. Something like Gillette steers clear of browns and purples. Because that’s not what men want to see. Blacks, blues and greens - now that’s the best a man can get.


But we’re just getting started. You see, color creates meaning. Haven’t you ever wondered why the multimillion dollar hot shots like Facebook, PayPal and Skype use mainly blue on their websites? I mean of all the colors, they choose blue?! I can tell you now, when it comes to color there’s no such thing as just because. Blue is one of the most commonly used colors online. It says: hey, you can trust me! Then you have yellow. It warns us. It alerts us. And yes, it can even make us anxious. Not for the feint-hearted, and I don’t recommend it if you’re redecorating, this is a powerful choice for call to action buttons.


Ever stumbled on a website and thought to yourself: Oooh, Someone’s

shoestringing it? That right there is color. Believe it or not. Something like orange can make us want to break out the weights but it can also be too much. And too much orange screams cheap. So watch out for that. Now black is an interesting one. This is the crème de la crème of color. It oozes luxury, elegance and sophistication. Something Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo and Citizen Watch know only too well.



Play Time: Once You Know the Rules You can Break Them.


Play Time: Once You Know the Rules You can Break Them


Come one, Come all - its color theory time. Now I know that might not sound like most thrilling thing. And me telling you how important it is isn’t going to change that. So I won’t go there. Instead, I’ll tell you a little secret: if you really want to play with color you need to learn the rules first. Only then you can break them.


Lesson one: Complementation. Sounds like a mouthful, right? Well, it’s actually quite straightforward. Complementation refers to the way in which colors are used to create contrast. Think red and green, purple and yellow and blue and orange. These are complementary colors. And why should you care? Well, these can make text easier to read, always a good thing so give yourself a pat on the back for that. But perhaps more importantly, they make things look wow. Like I-can’t-take-my-eye-off-of-you wow.


Lesson two: Vibrancy. Seems pretty basic. After all, this is a commonly used word: What a vibrant T-shirt you’re wearing. It refers to how bright something is. But it doesn’t end there. This wouldn’t be color theory without a little pomp, now would it? So here it goes. Vibrancy is about the emotional impact of colors. Brighter shades create energy and pop up most in advertising. Darker shades have a calming effect and are best for focusing on specific page elements.


color scheme


Lesson three: Now we’re getting to the fun part. Color schemes. These are at a designer’s disposal. So pick and choose as you see fit. I do have some pointers though. Let’s start with the monochromatic color scheme. As its name suggests, this uses different tons, shades and tints of a specific hue. Use it to create a harmonious effect. It’s a must on your play-with list and can completely change the feel of a design.


Now onto the Analogous color scheme. Effective and simple - I’m quite a fan of this one. It’s created using three colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. I highly recommend experimenting with different hues, tints and vibrancy.


Looking for something vibrant? Then the triad color scheme is for you. You can create this with colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel. A little tip, if I may, it’s a good idea to let one color dominate. Give it a try, you’ll see what I mean.


We’re almost done. Remember I mentioned the complementary color scheme? Well, there are a few variations you should probably know about. Let’s start with the split complementary. It’s an easy to create, all eyes on me kind of color scheme. Great for beginners. Listen up, here’s how you create it: Choose a base color. Now in addition to that color, the two colors on either side of the color opposite the base color are used. Onto something far more challenging. The double complementary or tetradic color scheme which takes a fair amount of skill to pull off. You’ve been warned. This uses four colors arranged in two complementary pairs.



Bottom Line: Here’s What You Need to Know.


Bottom Line: Here’s What You Need to Know 

Color is powerful. It can make or break a website. It shapes first impressions. And has been known to cause love at first site. And yet, I know it’s something you can pick by eeny-meeny-miny-moe-ing your eyedropper tool over something pretty. You can play with color. Play like you’re a child in a sand-pit with only a few more minutes before home time. That’s how the best color schemes are created. Of course, the theory matters and should keep it mind. You should use it as a guide. But never be afraid to color outside the lines.


What tips do you have for choosing the perfect color scheme?

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