The psychology of colour

Lego football player

…or how website colour schemes are influenced by football strips

I keep being asked to base websites on football team colours. This month I have designed an interface for a trade union website (“make it red like Liverpool FC”) and for a learning charity (“make it blue and yellow, like Leeds”).

I mentioned this to a group of web designers at a conference I attended this week and the response was loud. There wasn’t a single designer who hadn’t been asked to base a site scheme on an unrelated football strip.

It got me thinking about the psychology of colour. Colour associations develop so stealthily that most of us don’t realise why we associate a particular colour with an emotion, a product, the winning team or the losing side. So if you’re designing a brand or identity from scratch how do decide on a colour scheme? Should this be a considered, scientific choice or just a personal preference?

Can it be my/my bosses/the chairmans favourite colour?

My kids are big on this. My favourite colour is grey. Grey is calm and makes secondary colours like yellow and pink really pop. That said, it probably doesn’t score me highly on the Jung/Myers Briggs personality test.

Can it be blue?

The standard corporate fallback is blue. Blue is widely regarded as a safe colour, traditional and dependable. In the UK, blue is the healthcare colour: the NHS logo is blue and nurses uniforms are often blue. We trust in blue. On the flipslide, can you think of a TRUELY AWESOME website that is blue?

Can it be really fashionable, like Henry Holland?

Trends in colour go across design media. Yellow on the catwalk turns up as yellow in cushions and curtains in the portfolios of interior designers. This filters through to web and graphic design. If you’re on the cutting edge and have a budget to regularly update your site’s skin, don your skull-print leggings and rock it like a flatlander. If you’re in for the long haul, then perhaps a more measured scheme is needed.

Can anyone be offended by this?

Colours have different meanings in different cultures. For example, in the East white is the color of funerals while in the West white is the color of weddings. Check out the colour chart of cultural symbolism.

Has anyone actually thought of asking the customers?

If you’re unsure, the best people to ask are the end users. Do they all actually support Aston Villa? Your winning colours might be claret and blue but it might not be a good fit with your audience. Test out 2-3 colour variations with your target market. This doesn’t have to be a formal process, it can be done on your iPhone in the pub. A quick, gut reaction from the right demographic will tell you if you’re heading in the right direction.

I'm a freelance UI/UX Designer from London.

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