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How to Brand Your Website Using Color

This is Part 2 of my Using Images to Improve Your Website’s Performance three-part blog series.

In Part 1, 5 Reasons Why the Right Images Are Important for Your Website, I discussed how our brains are image processors and that a large part of our sensory cortex is devoted to vision.

We remember visuals long after everything else is forgotten and this is the central issue of branding. There is another component to imagery however, and that is color – and in some cases, non-color - and it is important to understand the difference.

When I first studied graphic design over 10 years ago, I was surprised at that time that we had to study all the meanings of colors. I must admit that up until then I thought that color psychology was just a New Age trend. But no, there is a real science behind it. And of course, nowadays there is a vast amount of information publicly available as well.

Color Psychology

Color has psychological effects on our brains in a myriad of ways. It produces emotional responses, influences our perceptions, affects our decision-making processes, and acts as stimulants to our brains.

It has also been found that color can consistently influence age, gender, and cultural demographics in distinct ways. So it’s not surprising that due to its high impact psychological effects, color psychology is widely used in marketing and branding.

One of the most important attributes of color is its ability to change our emotions. When we understand this and learn how to use it, by applying it to the basic principles of design, we can attract and maintain an emotional connection with our target audience.

How to Use Color

Colors create your site’s personality, and this is one of the most important factors in attracting and keeping your target audience.

However, it’s also important to keep in mind that each color has the ability to not only attract certain demographics, it can also repel others. So before you sit down to design your own color scheme, make sure you know exactly what audience is most interested in your products and services, and start from there.

The other rule to consider is to make your site look great FOR YOUR CUSTOMERS, not necessarily for you. Although in some cases, you and your target audience may be the same, and you want to attract people who think like you, it’s important to make sure you know exactly who is out there and what they respond to.

Another important factor is to always, always, always be different. Especially being different to your competition. This can be achieved sometimes with just some fine tuning of what the general range of similar suppliers are offering, and other times, to be completely or even radically different.

The critical thing however is to make sure you know your audience and always start there.

The 60-30-10 Rule of Design

There is a remarkably simple model that can be easily applied to designing with color and that is the 60-30-10 Rule of Design. 60% of your color palette should include your main dominant color, 30% contains your secondary color, and 10% should be used for your accent color.

There are other rules of design, and even the 60-30-10 Rule can be broken, but it is a useful, easy to use, and almost fool-proof model to start off with, especially if you are a beginner.

So, where do you start? Using and understanding the color wheel can be most beneficial. There are 2 main ways you can achieve this. Colors can be chosen either from those grouped together on one side of the wheel (analogous) or from opposite sides of the wheel (complimentary). Either way will create harmony and balance in your design.

For example, for my website and branding, I have chosen red, pink, and purple (analogous). These colors all have something in common, they are all derivatives of the color red, and blend well together. But I have also used complimentary colors for decorating that can look fabulous together. The main complimentary colors are red/green, blue/orange, or yellow/purple. And do not forget the 60-30-10 percentages are there to create harmony and balance for you, especially if you want to create a bold and dramatic brand.

Always, always, always try to be different, especially to your competition. 

Color vs Neutrals

Colors have personality and emotionally affect the viewer, and because of this emotional response, individual colors will appeal to certain demographics but not to others. Neutral tones, because they lack color, lack emotions and therefore can be used generically.

While neutral toned photography is more readily available from stock sellers and agencies, it is usually because it has a more generic appeal. These photos play it safe mainly because they are not likely to repel many buyers.

Even though neutrals are less likely to turn away certain audiences, the downside is that you will have less chance of attracting YOUR target audience as well.

Neutrals can look great and now often associated with style and fashion, however they should be used only where you want your visuals to recede. Neutrals play it safe. Color grabs consumers’ attention.

If you want to develop a personality and ultimately a brand for your website, please do not use just neutrals for your site. You can incorporate this into your overall design if you want to but just keep in mind that they will recede.

Neutral tones can be found on the outer circle of the color wheel and are read by the eye as lacking in color.

The History of Neutrals

By definition neutrals are technically lacking color. They range from soft browns through to all the various shades of ivory and cream, as well as soft undertones of greens and blues.

Neutral tones can be found on the outer circle of the color wheel and are read by the eye as lacking in color.

The use of neutral color tones goes back to the 19th century, to the Victorian era and times of puritanism. By the 1950s however, the use of neutrals was replaced by bright, happy cheerful colors after wartime restraint lifted and people became more positive.

Decades later, neutrals came back in fashion in the 1990s, led by Calvin Klein and his minimalist movement, which gave them the legacy of being associated with style and fashion.

Neutrals signify gentle, calming, subtle, conservatism but are different to black and white, as they lack contrast and visual impact.

Putting it all together

First step in designing your best-foot-forward color branding scheme is to identify your target audience.

Next, study up on your colors and what audience they will attract. In my next article I will describe the meanings and target audience associations of each of the main colors. However I also encourage you to do your own research. There is a lot of information out there that covers this area, and it can be a lot of fun as well.

If you are just starting out, then follow the 60-30-10 rule and you can't go wrong. Choose your dominant colour, secondary and then accent color. The rule will ensure that you will create balance between them.

Do not be afraid to choose a strong dominant color. Remember your brand needs to stay in your audiences' minds. I have visited too many extremely helpful blogs and websites that have used the popular neutrals trend for their visuals. Yes, they look smart and clean, but I am sad to say they were forgettable, and I cannot remember them now one from another.

Please do not be afraid of color. I am a firm believer that all colors can be combined, even radical ones like orange, purple or neons, if they target a specific group and used in a harmonious and balancing way.

In Part 3 of this three part blog series, I will discuss the meanings and target audiences for each of the main colors: The Meaning of Colors.

Have fun!

About the Author

Annie, the owner of Milleflore Images, has been a very successful stock photographer for 7 years, selling over 90,000 stock imagery on one agency alone, and 200,000 in total across all agencies that she contributes to.

Prior to that, she had her own graphic design business, which she says has been the perfect background to understanding what type of visual sells best.

Milleflore Images specializes in bright, colorful stock photography and video.

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