Posted Wednesday, June 23, 2004
You are driving your car through a rural area, enjoying the countryside. At some point you come to an intersection in the road. Out of the corner of your eye, you see a green stop sign. Do you stop or drive right through the intersection?
Chances are, if you do not directly look at the sign, you will drive right on through. Why? Because in many nations of the world, green means "go" and red means "stop."
Color exists only in our minds. It is a sensation based on a reaction to variations in light wavelengths. We have an emotional response to those wavelengths.
In the world of web sites, color is just as important in creating an effective user experience as copy or object placement. Using the wrong color may prevent an individual from purchasing a product. There are several reasons for this.
Thousands of years of history and a vast spectrum of religious beliefs have contributed to the development of color symbolism. Practically every culture on earth has assigned meaning to color. Because this is so ingrained in society, color can have a powerful influence on human feeling. For example, you may be familiar with expressions such as "feeling blue," or "it's a black day."
A single color may have a different connotation from one culture to the next. A classic example of improper use of color is the EuroDisney debacle. Disney executives chose purple to be a predominant color in the EuroDisney logo, not realizing that this color often symbolizes death in Catholic Europe. As a result, the general public was not enthused.
When choosing a marketing strategy for your web site, carefully evaluate who your audience is. Never allow personal preference to dictate your final decision!
Psychology is closely tied to Symbolism. Color can convey warmth, weight, etc. A web site advertising hot air balloons will generally not contain large amounts of black. Black and navy blue are heavy colors. Implying that your company's hot air balloons are heavy is not a good idea. Lighter, vibrant colors such as yellow and sky-blue are more appropriate.
Yellow often conveys a feeling of warmth and could work well on a web site promoting an island vacation spot. Yet it may not be appropriate on a police force web site. Yellow can carry connotations of sickness, cowardice, envy and treachery.
Other "warm" colors are red and orange. These lively colors excite the emotions. People who like red tend to be impulsive, energetic, and crave action and success. However, overuse of these colors can produce tension.
"Cool" colors include violets, blues and greens. These colors are tranquil and have a calming effect in people. Blue and light green are soothing, suggesting the outdoors.
Studies performed over the past few decades seem to indicate that men tolerate less saturated colors, however they gravitate toward more highly saturated color. Therefore, advertising that contains reds, bright blues and grays may appeal more to a man than a woman.
Women tend to gravitate to cool, relaxed colors and seem to be more color conscious than men.
In both genders, it has been found that achromatic, sterile colors may produce increased heart rates and contribute to higher levels of stress.
Light produced by a computer monitor is not constant. As you read this article, you are viewing approximately 30 separate images a second. Your brain rejects the information it doesn't want to see, and blocks out the frequent moments that your screen is blank. With this in mind, it is important not to make the colors on your web site too busy. This produces unnecessary strain on your eyes. Harsh, contrasting colors should be avoided. Giving people headaches does not aid in selling products!
It should also be noted that there are four factors that determine how color is rendered on your computer monitor: the CPU (the computer's brain), the computer platform (Windows, Mac OS, etc.), the video card, and the monitor itself. What you see may not be what others see. In some cases, royal red may appear as hot pink. Navy blue may look black. During the development process, try to view your site on different computers.
So what do you do?
You may find, in many cases, trial and error is the only way to determine what works. Be patient, and don't hesitate to make changes. The factors in determining color schemes of a web site, or any advertising for that matter, require careful consideration. Remember... Symbolism, Psychology, Gender, and Technology... Color does matter.
About the Author
Jake Gorst is a writer, film maker, and president of Exploded View (http://www.explodedview.tv), a new media advertising and design company. He also is a frequent contributor to various trade publications on topics related to Web site and architectural design psychology and trends. Previously, Gorst served as Vice President and Chief Creative Officer for E-Media Publishing, Ltd. and as an Internet content developer for Citibank and other Long Island based corporations.