A guide to strategic use of colour schemes in web design

There’s much more to using colour in web design than aesthetics. Your choice of colour can significantly impact users’ feelings, engagement, and emotions. To do this effectively, web designers need to utilise colour theory and schemes strategically. While colour psychology in web design is crucial, in this blog, we’ll be focusing on the strategic use of colour schemes in web design.

Check out these principles of good and effective web design

What are colour schemes?

A close-up of a colour guide

Colour schemes are used in many design disciplines, such as web design. Part of colour theory is that a colour scheme combines two or more colours used within a design. Colour scheme choices are picked from the 12 colours on the colour wheel.

Choosing the colours for a colour scheme requires an understanding of colour theory. Understanding how colours complement each other is essential to selecting a colour scheme that works well and is effective.

However, when choosing colours for a web design, you must go beyond simply choosing your favourites. To create effective web designs that appeal to users and improve engagement, your colour scheme also needs to consider the following:

  • The target audience.
  • Products and services.
  • The type of website.
  • Colour symbolisms and connotations.
  • Colour psychology.

Colour symbolism refers to our conscious associations with colour, whether through learning, culture, or religion. For example, red connotes anxiety or danger but can also connote love.

Colour psychology, however, is the unconscious feelings that a colour evokes. For example, the colour purple can boost creativity. The same colour associations and feelings will play a significant role in web design to improve user engagement.

If you need a recap on colour symbolism and psychology, check out this infographic:

An infographic on the psychology of colour in web design

Colour theory

A colour wheel

Here’s the colour wheel and colour theory for a quick recap. Firstly, the colour wheel displays 12 colours in a circle, showcasing the relationship between primary, secondary, and tertiary colours. Warm colours are shown on the left side of the wheel, with cool colours on the right.

Colour wheels can display a single colour or different hues, tints, tones, and shades.

  • Hues are the pure spectrum colour forms of primary, secondary, and tertiary colours, such as red.
  • A tint is a pure colour mixed with white to make it appear lighter. Pastel colours are typically tinted.
  • Tone is any pure colour, such as blue, with natural grey colouring mixed in. This causes pure colours to appear less vibrant.
  • Shade is a pure colour with only black colouring mixed in, with no white or greys. This helps to darken a pure colour while keeping the hue the same.

Contrast is another aspect of colour theory, which involves using two or more different colours with different tones. As such, the two colours stand out from one another. However, in web design, this can lead to poor legibility if not used correctly.

Colour theory focuses on how different colours work together and affect people’s perceptions and emotions. Understanding colour theory allows web designers to choose colours that go well together, convey the right meaning, and evoke the right mood.

Why is colour scheme important in web design?

A person using a graphic tablet with different colour charts on the table

There are many reasons why the strategic use of colour schemes is important in web design. Here are some of the main reasons how it can benefit your website:

  • Easily convey messages and brand value.
  • Elicit a favourable emotional response.
  • Strike a positive impression.
  • Influence user behaviour.
  • Increase the aesthetics of a website.
  • Influence user’s perception of a brand.
  • Boost your conversion rate.

If that still doesn’t convince you, here are a couple of statistics to prove the importance of colour. 85% of purchasing decisions online are significantly influenced by colour. Brand recognition can improve by 80% through colour usage. 60% of a product choice is affected by colour impression.

Your choice of colour is extremely important, from the colour used throughout the site to your CTA colour choice. This is why choosing a colour scheme that works well for your web design, brand, and users is important.

What are the different colour schemes?

When picking the colours you will use on your web design, you can pick from various colour scheme types. Here’s a rundown of the main colour scheme types:

Monochromatic

A monochromatic colour scheme for web design

Monochromatic colour schemes use a single pure colour but vary it with tones, tints, and shades. While lacking in contrast, monochromatic colour schemes can look very polished.

Achromatic

The achromatic colour scheme is similar to monochromatic but instead uses a collective of neutral black, white, or grey colours. Monochromatic schemes use differing shades on a single hue, whereas achromatic does not.

Analogous

An analogous colour scheme for web design

Analogous colour schemes take one pure colour from the colour wheel alongside two other colours next to it. You can also choose five colours in an analogous scheme, but the extra colours must be next to the outside colours.

Complementary

A complementary colour scheme for web design

Complementary colour schemes pick two colours from directly opposite sides of the colour wheel, including colour tints. Typically, complementary colours form grey when combined. Such colour choice maximises contrast (provided they are fully saturated).

Triadic

A triadic colour scheme for web design

The triadic colour scheme (as the name suggests) uses three equally placed colours on the colour wheel. The two colours must be 120 and 240 degrees from the chosen base colour that forms a triangle on the colour wheel. Triadic colour schemes are typically vibrant.

Tetradic

A tetradic colour scheme for web design

Tetradic (or double complementary) colour schemes use four colours instead of three on the colour wheel. The four colours chosen must consist of two complementary pairs.

Square

A square colour scheme for web design

Similar to the tetradic colour scheme, but will instead pick four colours equidistant from one another on the colour wheel. As such, you create a square or diamond shape on the colour wheel. It’s best to choose a dominant colour first, though, over balancing all the colours.

Wave

A wave colour scheme for web design

A relatively recent colour scheme, the wave method uses the relationship of colour and acoustic waves to create a harmonious colour palette. A base colour is chosen first, and then additional colours are added depending on their wavelength ratio, which agrees with consonance in music theory.

You can learn more about the wave method and how it works on the Wave Palette website.

How to pick the colours in a colour scheme

A person holding a tablet over different colour schemes

Now that we’ve covered the different colour schemes, some important questions remain. How do you pick the colours for your colour scheme? This is a difficult question and something every designer struggles with, whether it’s web design or interior design.

Finding the right colours that work well for your brand, your users, and your website is no easy feat. However, there are some tips you can use to help you choose an effective colour scheme that fits your brand.

First, it may be best to decide on a primary colour that will be used mostly throughout your design. Once you’ve settled on a primary colour, play around with the colour wheel and choose a colour scheme type that you feel is effective. Adobe Color is a good tool to use for this.

When picking a colour scheme, consider choosing colours that:

  • Reflect your brand identity and how you want to be perceived by users.
  • Make sure your brand purpose, value, and personality reflect your colour choice.
  • Choose secondary colours that complement your primary colour choice.
  • Avoid choosing a favourite colour and opt for a brand-cohesive choice.
  • Consider colour psychology and connotations in your colour choice and usage.
  • Simplicity is much more favourable than overcrowding and overcomplicating.
  • Pick colours that align with your users and run A/B tests to determine which works best.

Implementing your colour scheme

A person using a computer with colour scheme examples next to them

Once you set out your colour scheme, it’s time to implement it into your web design. Ideally, your primary colour will see the most usage, while the accent colour will have the least. One method for incorporating your colours into your web design is using AIDA.

AIDA stands for attention, interest, desire, and action. Your web design should guide a user through these stages. Firstly, you should implement colours that capture the user’s attention.

Colour is the first thing a user will see, accounting for 90% of a user’s judgement on a website. This is the hardest stage of AIDA to implement, but understanding your customers through buyer personas and conducting A/B testing using heatmaps helps overcome this.

Once you’ve captured a user’s interest, you need to develop their interest so that they stay on your site. When a site user is interested, they want to find out more. Knowing the needs and wants of your customers is crucial to appealing to their psychological and social influences. Colour contrast plays a crucial role at this stage.

The next stage after interest is encouraging a user to move towards the desire to act stage. To increase a user’s desire for your page, ensure your colours match your message and that you have implemented colour psychology.

Finally, you need to get the user to act by clicking a CTA, purchasing a product, or submitting a form. Your CTA colour choice can significantly affect conversion rates. Opting for a bright or warm colour is recommended, as this stimulates attention and encourages action.

Whether creating a web design from scratch or redesigning an existing website, your choice of colour in a colour scheme is crucial. Failing to opt for the right colours can impact your conversion rate. A simple CTA colour change can affect conversion rates by 21%.

Whatever colour scheme you decide on, always remember to consider your graphic needs. Even though your scheme may have four or five colours, you don’t have to use them all. Choosing colour schemes in web design is not easy, but by following the guide above, you can be on track to choosing a strategic colour scheme for an effective web design.