The Psychology of Colour in Web Design

Colour plays a vital role in our perception of the world, we’ve written before, way back in 2014, about what your choice of brand colours mean for your business.

Colour can influence emotions, behaviour, and even decision-making processes. In the realm of web design, understanding the psychology of colour is essential for creating engaging, effective, and aesthetically pleasing websites.

At O’Brien Media, we believe that mastering colour psychology can significantly enhance user experience and drive engagement. Here, we delve into how colour choices impact user behaviour and provide tips on selecting colour schemes that align with brand identity and user expectations.

The Emotional Impact of Colour

Colours evoke specific emotions and reactions, which can be harnessed to create a desired user experience. For instance:

  • Red: Often associated with excitement, passion, and urgency. It can be used to draw attention to call-to-action buttons or special offers.
  • Blue: Conveys trust, calmness, and professionalism. It’s a popular choice for corporate websites and healthcare industries.
  • Green: Symbolises nature, growth, and tranquility. It’s frequently used in eco-friendly brands and wellness sites.
  • Yellow: Represents happiness, optimism, and warmth. It can make a website feel welcoming and cheerful but should be used sparingly to avoid overwhelming the user.
  • Black: Exudes luxury, sophistication, and elegance. It’s often used in high-end brand websites to create a sleek, modern look.

Understanding these basic associations can help web designers choose colours that evoke the right emotions and responses from their audience.

Colour and User Behaviour

Colour not only affects emotions but also user behaviour. For example, a well-placed red button can increase conversion rates by creating a sense of urgency. Similarly, using blue can enhance user trust, which is crucial for e-commerce websites where users need to feel secure sharing their personal information.

Moreover, the contrast between colours can improve readability and usability. High contrast between text and background ensures that content is easy to read, reducing eye strain and keeping users engaged for longer periods. For instance, dark text on a light background is more readable than light text on a dark background.

Cultural Differences in Colour Perception

It’s important to note that colour perceptions can vary across different cultures. For example, while white is associated with purity and cleanliness in Western cultures, it is often linked with mourning in some Eastern cultures. Similarly, red is considered lucky in China but can signify danger in Western contexts.

When designing for a global audience, it’s crucial to consider these cultural differences to avoid miscommunication and ensure your colour choices resonate with your target demographic.

Tips for Selecting Colour Schemes

Selecting the right colour scheme involves more than just picking colours that look good together. Here are some tips to help you choose a colour scheme that aligns with your brand identity and meets user expectations:

1. Understand Your Brand Identity

Your brand identity should be the foundation of your colour scheme. Colours should reflect your brand’s personality and values. For example, if your brand is eco-friendly, greens and earthy tones would be appropriate. If you’re a tech company, blues and greys might better convey professionalism and innovation.

2. Consider Your Audience

Think about who your audience is and what emotions you want to evoke. For a children’s website, bright and playful colours like yellows and oranges may be suitable. For a financial institution, more conservative colours like blues and greys would instil trust and reliability.

3. Use the 60-30-10 Rule

A useful guideline in web design is the 60-30-10 rule. This rule suggests using three colours in a ratio of 60%, 30%, and 10%. The primary colour (60%) should be your brand’s main colour. The secondary colour (30%) should complement the primary colour and be used for navigation and other elements. The accent colour (10%) should be used sparingly to highlight important features like call-to-action buttons.

4. Test Different Combinations

A/B testing can help determine which colour combinations are most effective. By testing different variations, you can see how changes in colour affect user engagement and conversion rates. Tools like Google Optimize or Optimizely can facilitate this process.

5. Ensure Accessibility

Accessibility is a crucial aspect of web design. Ensure that your colour scheme is accessible to users with visual impairments, such as colour blindness. Use tools like the WebAIM Contrast Checker to ensure sufficient contrast between text and background colours. Additionally, avoid relying solely on colour to convey important information; use text labels or patterns as well.

Implementing Colour Theory

In addition to understanding the psychological impact of colours, applying colour theory principles can enhance your design. Colour theory involves the use of the colour wheel to create harmonious combinations. Here are some common colour schemes based on colour theory:

  • Analogous Colour Scheme: Uses colours that are next to each other on the colour wheel. This scheme is pleasing to the eye and creates a serene design.
  • Complementary Colour Scheme: Uses colours opposite each other on the colour wheel. This scheme creates high contrast and can be very eye-catching, making it ideal for highlighting important elements.
  • Triadic Colour Scheme: Uses three colours that are evenly spaced around the colour wheel. This scheme is vibrant and offers a balanced contrast.


The psychology of colour in web design is a powerful tool that, when used correctly, can significantly enhance user experience and engagement.

By understanding the emotional impact of colours, considering cultural differences, and applying practical tips and colour theory principles, you can create a website that not only looks good but also resonates with your audience and reinforces your brand identity.