How Color Theory Can Impact Website Design


What does color theory have to do with web design? The answer is huge—much more than the casual browser might imagine. Sometimes, the smallest adjustment can make a significant difference. For example, the color of the landing page might seem like a small matter, but research seems to indicate it can be a game-changer in the most unexpected ways.

With so many online sites to visit, the average reader often spends fewer than 15 seconds scanning a new page. In fact, holding someone’s attention for 30-45 seconds is considered quite successful. During that brief time, the reader will decide whether to delve deeper into the website’s links and offers or to “bounce” off to another location. Once gone, the opportunity to influence that consumer is lost, perhaps permanently.

Here is where color theory enters the picture. Research seems to show that the more quickly the site appears to download, the more tempted the reader will be to stay a few seconds more. Also, it appears that using relaxing landing page colors can actually quicken the perceived download time. Although the download is not actually happening any faster, except in the mind of the beholder, that sense of quickness can translate into increased positive feelings about the site and lingering there a little longer.

How does color alter time perception? Color theory describes three dimensions or attributes that can be manipulated to create relaxation on the part of the viewer and a false perception of the site download process.

  1. Hue refers to the primary colors, blue, yellow and red. Of the three, blue is more relaxing than the other two. It is the color of the sky, night, water and nature in general.
  2. Chroma refers to the amount of pigmentation or saturation of a color. The more intense or saturated a color is, the more aroused feelings it creates. The less pigmented the color, the more calming and relaxing it becomes.
  3. Value describes how much white or black is in a color. A lower value has more black; a high value has more white. This higher value seems to have the most significant effect on whether a color is perceived as relaxing or not. Once again, relaxation on the part of the viewer seems to mentally speed up the download process and reduce irritation or impatience that would encourage one to bounce off to another site too quickly.

Typically, one of the most relaxing colors on the spectrum is blue. It exudes peace, safety, protection, responsibility, and all those feelings of well being that companies want to represent their brand. It is also the most popular color among both men and women. Considering the above research, it’s surprising that not all businesses use blue as the main color for their landing page.

In reality, since each color has its own connotations, many companies decide to choose the color message that most closely aligns with their product or service. For example, Pinterest has chosen high-energy red to motivate their do-it-yourself readers. Amazon uses orange for its positive call-to-action: buy something here. Yahoo is known for being wild and creative, and purple is the perfect associative color. GroupOn is all about saving money, so green is the natural choice.

In the fiercely competitive world of web traffic, website designers are looking for any advantage to keep readers on their landing pages just a few seconds longer or to emotionally connect the consumer to their product or service. It would seem that understanding color theory can definitely play an important role in capturing and holding the attention of a restless online world.


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