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Everything Web Designer Need To Know About Color Theory

Perhaps you’re a web developer who’s beginning to move toward the design spectrum. Or maybe you’re a web designer who wants to brush up on your craft every now and again.

Regardless of what part you play in the world of website creation, you should know the rules and tools of color theory. Color theory is an integral aspect of design, playing a vital role in beautifully made websites.

 What Is Color Theory?

What Is Color Theory
What Is Color Theory

Image Via Flickr by Andrew*

Generally speaking, color theory doesn’t necessarily have a single definition. Colors evoke different feelings in everyone. While a pale hue of blue may induce a sense of calmness in some people, it may suggest heartbreak to others. Due to cultural backgrounds, life experiences, and personal preferences, one color can evoke drastically different emotions.

The Science of How Colors Work:

The Science of How Colors Work
The Science of How Colors Work

From a design standpoint, however, color theory encompasses a number of things. It’s the way colors interact with one another in terms of color complementation, vibrancy, and contrast.

  • Color Complementation is how we see colors relating and reacting to other colors. When we see colors of opposite ends of the spectrum (for example: orange and blue), a happy medium is established for our eyes.
  • Vibrancy is what determines the emotions we feel. Again, this can vary from person to person. However, brighter colors often encourage energy. They’re helpful when you’re trying to advertise a product or produce an emotional response. Darker shades tend to be more calming, therefore allowing users to relax their eyes.
  • Contrast is the way using certain colors focuses a reader’s attention to particular content. By using a variety of contrasting colors, you can draw a viewer’s focus to the important elements of a page. Using black as a background layered with white text is one of the ways many advertisements advert your eyes.

Familiarize Yourself with Color “Meanings” and Where to Use Them:

Familiarize Yourself with Color Meanings and Where to Use Them
Familiarize Yourself with Color Meanings and Where to Use Them
  • Red: Red can be obnoxious when it’s overused. A powerful color when used for accents on a site, it can also evoke different feelings depending upon the shade. Whereas a pure red is passionate and energetic, a darker red depicts elegance. Take a look at www.revealreel.com for a great example.
  • Orange: Orange is a great color for websites in the health and cuisine industries. It’s also an awesome color for retro themed designs. Though it commands attention, it’s less forceful than red.  Hunter orange, significantly, is also commonly considered to be the ideal color for CTA buttons on websites. There’s a great deal of marketing data that shows this color is optimal for generating more customer conversions.
  • Yellow: In design, bright yellow is used for encouraging cheerfulness. Since yellow can be overwhelming like red, it should be used as an accent color. For example, check out how yellow is used in Best Buy’s website. Additionally, dark yellows and gold’s are great shades to suggest solidity.
  • Cool Colors (Green, Purple and Blue): When you want to project a sense of relaxation or professionalism, cool colors are your best route. You should lean toward the brighter shades of cool for a look of professionalism with political, educational, and various product sites.  Softer shades are ideal for calmness and would be best used in health, beauty, and environmental sites.
  • Neutrals: Tan, beige, black, and gray are often looked at as boring or otherwise uninspiring with their lack of energy. That is exactly why they’re perfect when used as a backdrop to brighter hues. On their own, they provoke very little emotion. However, as a contrasting backdrop, they allow bolder colors to quickly pop for website visitors.
  • Black: It’s the most dominant of all colors and should be used in edgy, formal, and elegant design. Though it’s traditionally used for text and other functional aspects, when used as a background or central color on a site, it can provide a sense of sophistication and mystery. Take a look at Pixelmator for a prime example of black in action (note: never use white text on a black background).
  • White, The “colorless” Color: White is best used as a backdrop, because it’s clean, minimal and simple. White’s works with almost any color, allowing them to easily contrast and take center stage.

Sound like a Pro (Even If You’re Not One): The Terminology Unveiled:

Sound like a Pro (Even If You're Not One) - The Terminology Unveiled
Sound like a Pro (Even If You’re Not One) – The Terminology Unveiled

To work in web design, it’s critical you know the proper lingo. Though you know when to use certain colors, you need a working knowledge of the various concepts and theory terminology too.  Here’s just some of the vocabulary you should be aware of.

  • Hue: A fundamental term in the color theory world, it refers to an object or plane’s color. When you say “blue,” you’re talking about the hue.
  • Chroma: Chroma indicates the purity of a color. For instance, a hue with a high chroma has no black, white, or gray in it. Basically, chroma is the brightness of a color in comparison to white.  It’s important that you always go for hues with dissimilar chromas in design.
  • Value: The “lightness” of a color, value means how light or dark a color is. The lighter the color, the higher the value. For instance, yellow has a higher value than green. In your designs you should try and use colors of different values but with high chromas.
  • Shade/Tints: Shades are made when black is added to a color, making it darker. On the contrary, a tint is when white has been added to a color, making it lighter. In design, it’s smart to combine shades with tints so that you prevent an overly dark look.
  • Saturation: This is how a color (hue) looks under various lighting. Colors with similar saturation levels make for more cohesive appearing designs.

Color Theory is an enormous topic; it would be difficult (if not impossible) to try covering it all in a single article. This is truly only a minor piece of the mind-blowing theory that web designers use every day.

About Joseph Stark Jr.

Joseph Stark Jr. is a freelance writer and blogger by day, focusing on technology and web design. When he’s not out in his garage modifying his computer, he’s taking advantage of his new T-Mobile 4G Network deal. Email him if you have any web design questions.

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