Web Design Color Theory: How Color Impacts User Experience

Page Flows Team

May 17, 2024 | 8:00 am
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Concerning web design, color theory, and the user’s experience, there is an incredibly significant synergy that you should know about. 

You should know how color theory can impact web design and the user’s experience with a product. Your use of color can make the difference between a loyal customer and an uninterested user. 

For this reason, we’ll discuss the many vital components of color theory in today’s guide. We’ll address the basics of color theory, color characteristics, color schemes, and so much more! 

By the time you’ve finished reading this guide, you’ll have a better understanding of how to use color for user-centricity. 

Why Color Should Matter to Every Web Designer 

Understanding color theory means knowing how to use powerful tools to elicit a particular emotional response from your users. Given that you can use color to influence your user’s perception of your product, color theory is incredibly significant. 

By knowing how specific color combinations impact the user’s mood and emotional states, you can directly enhance the user’s experience. 

However, aside from how color impacts the user’s emotions, understanding color theory can offer other benefits for web designers.  

For instance, an effective use of color can help users navigate your product, enabling them to find desired content. 

What’s more, color can increase the visibility of essential CTAs and convey a brand’s message and core values more effectively. Put differently, the correct use of color can determine the success or failure of a marketing campaign. 

Ultimately, the use of color will actively impact the user’s satisfaction, brand recognition, and the overall success of a product.

Color Theory Basics: The Three Different Types of Colors 

Before we explore color theory in more depth, it’s essential that you understand the basics of color theory first. 

1. Primary Colors 

Undoubtedly, the most fundamental aspect of color theory is the use of primary colors. 

The three primary colors include the following: 

  • Red
  • Yellow
  • Blue

These three colors serve as the basis for all other colors you have or will use. Any combination or singular use of these colors can act as a referential guideline as you explore other color characteristics. 

A numbered surface covered by blue, red, and yellow stripes representing the primary colors.

2. Secondary Colors 

You can create secondary colors by combining any two of the base colors we discussed in the previous section. 

Like primary colors, there are three secondary colors that you should know about: 

  • Orange (Red + Yellow)
  • Purple (Red + Blue)
  • Green (Yellow +  Blue)

Keep in mind that you can only create these secondary colors by using the purest form of a primary color. 

3. Tertiary Colors 

Any web/UI designer can create tertiary colors by mixing a primary color and a secondary color together. 

However, it’s worth noting that not every primary color will combine with a secondary color successfully. For example, if you were to mix red with green, you’d create a slightly brown color. Unless you want to use brown colors in your designs, it’s good to know which color combinations work better together. 

Generally, we recommend that you mix primary colors with secondary colors that appear next to them on the color wheel. For the sake of clarity, we’ve listed below some color combinations that work successfully. 

  • Vermillion (Red + Orange)
  • Magenta (Red + Purple)
  • Violet (Blue + Purple)
  • Teal (Blue + Green)
  • Amber (Yellow + Orange)
  • Chartreuse (Yellow + Green)

By using the color wheel, designers can identify the most compatible colors, ensuring their color combinations have the desired effect. 

What Is the Color Wheel?

On the topic of the color wheel, you must know how to use it to create harmonious designs. 

If you’ve never seen a color wheel, don’t worry – it’s a straightforward, easy-to-understand concept. A color wheel is a visual representation of all of the colors we’ve discussed and their relationship to one another. 

Nearly every color wheel will display the three primary and secondary colors, as well as the main six tertiary colors. However, the best color wheels you can use will also visualize essential color characteristics like hue and tone. 

We’ll explore these characteristics in more detail momentarily. For now, it’s essential to keep in mind that using a color wheel makes determining appropriate color schemes so much easier. 

A detailed illustration of a color wheel, including hue, tint, shade, and tone.

The Important Characteristics of Color 

As previously mentioned, some of the best, more detailed color wheels will visualize specific color characteristics. 

Whichever color wheel you use, it’s good to know how you can alter the aesthetics of the colors you employ. 

To help you maximize the impact of your product’s color schemes, we’ve explored the characteristics of colors below. 

1. Hue

Many people use ‘hue’ and ‘color’ interchangeably; however, there is a slight distinction between the two. 

‘Color’ is a general term that many people use to describe every tone, tint, hue, and shade they can see. Contrastingly, the term ‘hue’ describes a vivid, pure color that you’ll see on the color wheel or in a rainbow. 

Primary and secondary colors are examples of different hues. Given that tertiary colors aren’t ‘pure,’ they typically consist of two hues. 

The most important thing to remember when it comes to hues is that hues don’t contain any black, grey, or white.  

You won’t find black, grey, or white on the color wheel because they all have no hue. Instead, they all classify as neutral colors.  

2. Tone 

A tone refers to any pure color that you’ve added pure grey to. You can create pure grey by using equal amounts of both black and white. 

Adding pure grey to any color means that you’ve dulled the intensity of the original color. 

You can easily recognize tones since they are more subtle and less bold than pure colors. Using toned colors may appear less brilliant and vivid, but they speak to sophisticated designs much more effectively. 

3. Tint 

The process of color tinting simply involves adding white to any color. 

Of course, the more white you add to a color, the lighter the tint will become. 

Note that we said ‘lighter’ instead of ‘brighter’ just now. Adding white reduces the levels of darkness within a color, but tinting a color doesn’t alter the color’s brightness. Simply put, by tinting a color, you are making it paler than the original color. 

An excellent example of a tinted color is any pastel color that you’ve ever come across. 

4. Shade 

A shade serves as the opposite of a tint, whereby you would add black to a color instead of white. Instead of using a tint to adjust a color’s lightness, you’d use shade to adjust its darkness. 

Similar to tints, shades are the same color as the original color, only darker and often more intense. 

5. Color Temperature 

Colors can also either appear ‘warm’ or ‘cool.’ 

Warm colors are hues that contain higher levels of red and yellow colors. Symbolically, warm colors represent happiness and passion but also aggression and urgency. 

In contrast, cool colors contain higher levels of blue and purple. Although these colors appear ‘colder,’ they can make your target audience feel more relaxed and soothed than warmer colors. 

An image of an orange and blue wall with peeling paint to represent varying color temperatures.

6. Contrast

If you’ve ever heard of UI design principles or visual design trends, then you know the importance of contrast. 

Contrast is vital, especially when it comes to background color and readable text. Without contrast, your users will find it difficult to differentiate between the elements of your UI designs

For this reason, it’s wise to use a white background and a dark text color. Alternatively, you can use light text against a dark background, like any designer who practices dark mode design.

A blue lemon sliced into two halves against a blue background, revealing bright yellow innards.

What Are Color Schemes?

Simply put, color schemes are a series of colors that work well together, creating color harmony. 

In design, color harmony refers to the balance of colors a designer uses to enhance the user’s experience and accessibility. Thus, a color scheme helps to create a unified aesthetic appeal within a digital product. 

Color schemes imbue consistency within a brand’s identity, helping users become familiar with said brand. 

Once you have a preferred base color in mind, you should then consider the appropriate color scheme. Why? Color schemes can help you determine which accent colors to use to drive your user’s engagement. 

Typically, brands will use one of four central color schemes, including: 

  1. Monochromatic color schemes
  2. Analogous color schemes
  3. Complementary color schemes. 
  4. Triadic color schemes. 

Monochromatic Colors

Monochromatic color schemes utilize a single color with varying tones, tints, and shades. 

Although monochromatic color schemes lack contrasting colors, they often look clean and straightforward. 

Analogous Colors 

Analogous colors simply refer to colors that appear next to each other on the color wheel. 

So, analogous color schemes typically involve three hues that are next to one another on said color wheel. Designers utilize analogous color schemes when creating softer designs that feature very little contrast. 

For this reason, analogous color schemes prove valuable when creating warmer or cooler color palettes. 

Complementary Colors 

Complementary colors are colors that exist on opposite sides of the color wheel. For instance, purple and yellow are complementary colors. 

Complementary color schemes utilize the greatest amount of color contrast, making them excellent for grabbing the user’s attention. 

Tip: Choose one main color and use your second color as an accent within your user interface. 

A purple flower against a yellow background to symbolize a complementary color scheme.

Triadic Colors 

When visually represented, triadic colors form a triangle consisting of equal lines within the color wheel. 

For example, a combination of purple, green, and orange hues would act as a triadic color scheme. 

Please note that triadic color schemes can create high levels of contrast but can also quickly become visually overwhelming. 

What Is a Color Palette in the Context of Web Design?

As you know, color schemes describe the methods by which you choose and group together specific colors. A color palette, on the other hand, refers to the actual colors you will use based on your color scheme. 

Color palettes create the foundation and consistency of your brand’s identity. Color palettes also help you create aesthetically pleasing user interfaces, providing you use them effectively. 

In order to use color palettes successfully, you must conduct thorough user research. Only by finding out more about your audience can you understand how to evoke particular emotional responses from them. 

Additionally, we recommend that you acquaint yourself with color psychology.

Understanding Color Psychology: The Meaning of Colors 

Speaking of color psychology — you will want to know what color psychology actually is. 

Color psychology focuses on the influence of colors on a person’s mood and behavior. If you want to create color palettes and schemes that influence your user’s emotions positively, you must understand color meanings. 

Below, we’ve revealed how most people subconsciously react to the colors we’ve discussed in today’s guide. 

1. Red 

Red symbolizes both positive and negative emotions. 

On the one hand, many people associate red with excitement, passion, energy, and love. On the other hand, red can also represent aggression, danger, and even war. 

2. Orange

Orange symbolizes enthusiasm, warmth, and happiness. Orange can also relate to creativity and lightheartedness. 

3. Yellow 

Yellow is a warm color that mimics the hue of sunlight. 

Yellow can also symbolize joy, happiness, confidence, youthfulness, and positivity. 

4. Green 

Green is a positive, soothing color that many people associate with the natural environment, freshness, and healing.

5. Blue 

Blue is another calm, soothing color that conveys a sense of dependability and evokes the user’s trust. 

Blue color palettes often elicit feelings of tranquility and peace. 

6. Purple

For a long time, many have associated purple with wealth, luxury, power, and even royalty. 

Purple also perfectly conveys elements of mystery and magic! 

Color Theory for Web Design: The Best Color Combinations You Should Experiment With

Before you rush to open Adobe Color to create your own palettes, we have some more advice for you! Specifically, we have some suggestions concerning the best color combinations that you should try out! 

  1. Deep Blue & Pastel Pink
  2. Cherry Red & White
  3. Forest Green & Moss Green
  4. Salmon Pink & Soft Peach
  5. Dark Green & Light Grey
  6. Teal & Light Green
  7. Periwinkle & Soft Lilac
  8. Black & Bright Yellow
  9. Seafoam Green & Pale Orange
  10. Taupe & Light Blue

Web Design Color Theory: Concluding Thoughts 

When it comes to colors for website design, it’s crucial that you conduct user research. 

By combining valuable user research data with your knowledge of color psychology, you’ll create more compelling and enjoyable user interfaces. 

Speaking of enjoyable user interfaces, why not take inspiration from a proven product? Consider Page Flows

Page Flows is the home of over 5,100 recordings and over 83,000 screenshots of successful products! Page Flows works alongside monumentally successful brands, including Google, Disney, and Booking.com. 

We offer a solid knowledge base of valuable user flows, including onboarding and making purchases. 

What’s more, we offer design solution inspiration across multiple industries! We tackle web design color theory with one thing in mind – the quality of our users’ experiences. With Page Flows, you’ll learn how to enhance the quality of your users’ experiences time after time!

Get started today to peruse our hub of user flow recordings and  screenshots. 

Author

  • Page Flows Team

    The Page Flows Team is a collective of passionate UX design professionals dedicated to delivering insightful content on user experience and design principles. With diverse backgrounds and expertise, our contributing writers bring you the latest trends, tips, and research in the UX field. Each article is crafted with a focus on empathy, innovation, and a commitment to enhancing user interactions. Outside of writing, our team members draw inspiration from various pursuits such as outdoor activities, art, and continuous learning, fueling their creativity and drive to push the boundaries of UX design. The Page Flows Team is committed to providing valuable resources and engaging content to help you stay ahead in the ever-evolving world of user experience.

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