Understanding Color Theory for Web Design 

Last week’s blog addressed the importance of color scheme in increasing website engagement. We addressed color psychology, visual hierarchy, and website accessibility. We also provided a few handy tools to help you get started creating a color palette for your website. This week we’re going to dive into the topic of creating a color palette by discussing some of the basics of color theory and design.  

Basic of Color Theory:   

There have been several books written about color theory. But in the simplest terms possible it has to do with the ways that people perceive color and the visual effects of colors interacting with one another. Understanding color theory begins with the color wheel.  

The circular diagram of colors that we know as the color wheel was first created by Sir Isaac Newton. A color wheel with 12 colors.Different variations of this have been developed, studied, and debated over the years. By drawing a vertical line through the center of the color wheel you can separate the warm colors (red, orange, and yellow) from the cool colors (purple, blue, green. And from the color wheel we derive different categories of colors.  

There are three main categories of colors: primary, secondary, and tertiary. In a traditional color wheel, the primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. These colors are primary because they can’t be created by combining any other colors. The secondary colors, green, orange, and purple, are created by mixing primary colors. Finally, the tertiary colors are formed by mixing the primary and secondary colors, these include yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green & yellow-green.  

So how do you get from the twelve basic colors on the color wheel to the wide variety we find today in paint and crayons. This is where tint, shade, and tone come into play to create different hues of the 12 basic colors. Tint involves adding white to a color, whereas shade involves adding black. Lastly tone involves adding black and white (gray) to a color.  

Color Harmony: 

Understanding the basics of color theory will help you know how to create color harmony when developing your color scheme. Color harmony has to do with a visual appealing and balanced arrangement of colors. There are four main color schemes that designers turn to create color harmony when creating a color palette: monochromatic, complementary, analogous, and triadic.  

  • Monochromatic color schemes use one base color and its different hues.  
  • Complementary color schemes use two colors form opposite sides of the color wheel. Various hues of these colors can be used.  
  • Analogous color schemes use three colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. This helps create a cohesive look.  
  • Triadic color schemes use three colors that sit triangular to one another on the color wheel. To create this kind of color scheme, choose a base color then draw and equilateral triangle across the color wheel to get two other colors.  

When choosing colors for your colors for your website consider three things: contrast, complementation, and vibrancy. Contrast has to do with how elements are divided on your website. For example, you will want to create a contrast between the background and the text on the website. Contrast is an especially important part of making your website accessible to people who are color blind.  

Complementation has to do with colors that complement one another. Complementary colors are opposites on the color wheel and provide visual harmony. Vibrancy is more about the mood colors set. Warm or bright colors are energizing, whereas cool colors are calming. 

Steps to Create a Color Palette: 

Now that you have a good idea of color theory and color harmony it’s time to start working on your color pallet. Here a few tips: 

  • Choose a Primary Color: this color will become the color that your brand is associated with. If you have a logo or a seal there is probably a primary color used that may be a good starting point.  
  • Pick a Number of Colors: typically, designers recommend using three colors.  
  • Embrace Neutrals: neutral colors are important in web design. Like white space they give users a chance to digest the information on your site, but too much can be a bad thing. Neutral colors are great for text, just remember the importance of contrast.  
  • Use Secondary Colors: reference the color schemes above to help you thing about what secondary colors will complement the primary color you have chosen.  
  • 60/30/10 Rule: In simple terms this rule recommends choosing three main colors for your website. This includes one primary color, one secondary color, and one accent color. Use the primary color about 60% of the time, the secondary color 30% of the time, and the accent color 10% of the time.  
  • Test it Out: after landing on a color palette that you like, test it out. Try designing a few basic marketing materials and see if you lie the look. 

Creating a color palette for your website may seem daunting, but understanding the basics of color helps. If you still aren’t sure about it all don’t worry, MIBS, Inc. can help. Contact us today to learn more.