How to Get the Most Out of Color in Your UX/UI Designs

Best practices for using color in your UX/UI design

For most things, visual appearance is important. Your customers are no exception. Color is one of the main elements in UI and UX design. Color is the building block of visual language. It has the power to determine the first impression of your product – sophisticated and element or simple and casual. It highlights, guides attention, unifies elements, and conveys meaning and emotion. It’s less about making something pretty and more about making something functional; color that’s used to make a system. You should strive for a design that is nice, clean, and elegant. To improve your color decisions as you thoughtfully craft your brand/products design, let’s go over:

Why Color Matters for Your UX/UI 

Colors are arguably just as important as language for conveying meaning and speaking to your target audience. They can:

  • Reflect on your brand’s personality 
  • Attract or repel users
  • Articulate your message 

You are sure to find that any and all UX/UI design guides will mention color to a large extent. 

Color has the power to determine the basic tone, mood, and perception of a product or company. Studies have shown that it only takes 90 seconds of initial viewing for a user to make their judgment about your brand or product; Between 62% and 90% of that judgment is based on your color scheme. Allow us to repeat, users will make a snap judgment about you and your product in under 90 seconds. As a result, you do not want to be picking the colors for your logo, brand, website, and product packaging on a whim or out of convenience. 

By utilizing the right color palette, you achieve the following:

  • Make information easier for your user to read
  • Increase the strength of calls-to-action
  • Enhance customer navigation capacity 
  • Fulfill the unconscious aesthetic needs of the user
  • Encourage intuitive interactions

Your ultimate goal is a transaction, and color gets you there. As a central component in your strategizing attempts, it would be a shame to ignore its role in your success. 

Color Basics: Best Practices for Using Color in Your UX/UI Design

In all things, color is associated with a unique meaning and feeling. Green? Science. Red? Passion. Yellow? Happiness. Of course, some of this varies according to culture. 

Choosing the Right Color

Different colors evoke different signals to those who experience your product and brand. Ideally, you should be choosing the right colors in the right pattern. To know which colors are the right colors for you and your goals, you have to keep your target audience in mind. The audience that you market to or cater to may not favor the same colors as by a different company. Ask yourself:

  • What is your brand’s identity?
  • Who are you speaking to?
  • What is your goal?

These questions will help guide you through picking your colors and color patterns. 

Let’s start by exploring the unique perceptions and emotions evoked by different colors. 

Netflix logo
The largest streaming service in the world is easily identified by their red logo. Coincidence? We think not. Image courtesy of Netflix

Think back to an art class you took in school. There is a branch of colors known as warm colors. These are reds, oranges, and yellows. As the name alludes to, warm colors evoke warm, fuzzy feelings. Alternatively, red can symbolize anger, passion, or hostility to some individuals. Many companies draw on those feelings of warmth and comfort to lure in customers, and make their product the comfortable choice – the only choice. 

Companies with red logos can be easily recognized and identified, evoking feelings of familiarity (e.g., Coca-Cola). Things that are familiar, are also safe and inviting. Nearly everyone is attracted to the familiar, safe, and inviting product, giving the product a wide reach. 

The cooler side of the color palette is known as - you guessed it - cold colors. These include blue, green, indigo, and violet. The connotations with these colors are of sweetness, quietness, trust, confidence, or contemplation. You may now be noticing that many companies – Skype, Facebook, Ford, IBM, Dell – use the color blue in their branding to instill trust towards their company. 

The perception of colors differs between men and women. Research suggests that men are drawn to grays, whites, and blacks and that women pay more attention to combinations of red and blue. Brands such as Mercedes Benz, Manscape, Caterpillar Inc., and more have website themes that are black, white, and gray. This is intentional. Research shows that blue is the No.1 color liked by both men and women. That being said, it only makes sense that the combination of red and blue is the most preferred color by adults. American airlines take advantage of this, as does Pepsi. 

Target home page
Women love Target, and in turn Target uses colors that draw the eye of a woman. Image courtesy of Target

When considering warm and cold colors for your product interface, don’t forget about the colors' meaning. Some are as follows:

  • Red – anger, love, passion, confidence
  • Orange – excitement
Nickelodeon logo
With children as their target audience, it is reasonable for Nickelodeon to use an exciting color like orange to draw attention to their network. Image courtesy of Logopedia. 
  • Yellow – joy, happiness, sunlight
Snapchat logo
A happy color like yellow is appropriate for a social media company - like Snapchat - that encourages social interaction. Image courtesy of 1000 Logos. 
  • Blue – security, trust, safety
  • Green – calm feelings of renewal 
Spotify logo
Calm feelings of renewal evoked by green pair well with an audio streaming company where users often find catharsis listening to music. Image courtesy of Apple Store.
  • Black – mystery, death, tragedy, modern
  • White – wholesome, clarity, purity, innocence 
  • Purple – wealth and royalty
Hallmark logo
Wearing a crown fit for a king, it is no wonder Hallmark chose purple as its trademark color. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Now that you’ve got an idea of what color may suit your product, you’ll want to figure out a color scheme with more than one color and color mixes. You may be wondering, how to do this and how many colors to use.

Technically, in UX/UI design there are no formal limitations to how many colors you use, but you should try to limit it to a maximum of 2-3. You can use variations of whichever colors you pick. It’s important to note that it is more about the combination of colors than the amount of colors if you want a vibrant, eye-catching design. With that said, it is okay to break the rules now and again, especially if you have an idea in your head that you just can’t quite shake.

You may have an innate knack for this sort of thing – picking colors and mixing colors. But, if you don't, that's okay. There are some techniques you can use to take the guessing game out of it and ensure that your color palette is effective.

You will normally use an RGB (Red, Green, Blue) color wheel. With its 12 color segments - primary, secondary, and tertiary - you have lots of options. To narrow down this selection, here are some tips: 

  • Monochromatic Approach: This term refers to picking a color then working your way inwards for a soft shading. You get the darkest shade, the lightest shade, and an in-between shade. Using this method to pick your three colors creates a subtle and sophisticated look for your design. This creates a harmonious appearance. 
  • Analogous Approach: This is when you use colors that are next to one another on the wheel. Pick one color and move either right or left by 2 colors. You should be able to draw a 90 degree angle from the border of the first color to the border of the last color, with the center of the wheel as the connecting point. This approach gives you more contrast and a greater dynamic without clashing or losing elegance. 
  • Complementary Approach: This gives you a pop of vibrance, or a striking brightness of color that draws attention. Start by choosing a base color. Next, add the complementary color, which is the color directly opposite of the chosen base color. Add more chromatic colors for a stunning design. 
Color schemes reference images
Color scheme techniques take the indecisiveness and doubt out of picking a color scheme! Image courtesy of Interaction Design Foundation

Color Balance

When doing UI or UX design, you need to know how to combine color and in what proportions. As easy as this is to do correctly, it is just as easy to overdo leading to a chaotic visual. You also have to aim to maintain sophistication. Finding a balance can be hard. Bear in mind that minimalism is always better in UX and UI. These next two rules should help. 

Rule 1

The 60% + 30% + 10% rule is the most reliable strategy for achieving balance and sophistication among colors. This criterion allows you to cultivate a neat and harmonious interface that satisfies your users. It can also allow for smooth, effortless eye movement to comfortably transition your user from one point to the next. 

Rule 2

This rule complements the 6:3:1 rule. This is a surefire way to avoid visual chaos. For example, try this for your logo:

  • 60% of your design – a neutral color
  • 30% of your design – a secondary brand color
  • 10% of your design – your main brand color

A quality design exploits both of these rules. 

The amazon website is a great example of this. If you reference the image below, 60% of the site is white – their neutral color. 30% of their image is blue – the footer and header. 10% of their design is yellow that draws the eye to key navigation elements. 

Amazon home page
The most successful companies use these key color balance rules! Image courtesy of Version Museum

Combinations and Complimentary Colors

When delivering a sophisticated color scheme, have some fun and play around with some settings. Let’s introduce you to some of the ways you can tweak your colors to give a whole new effect. 

Shades, Tints, Tones

You can use a hue. Hue is the pure color without tint or shade. To change the hue, move around the outside of the color wheel. A hue in which black is added is called a shade. Shading is great if you want to lead the human brain to draw certain conclusions and subtly enhance main design elements. A hue in which white is added is called a tint. A hue that is mixed with gray is called a tone. 

Contrast & Brightness

Contrast is an element of UX and UI design considered to be practical methodology. Strong contrast adds tension and compels the user to concentrate. Light contrast is more fluid, mild, and relaxed.Try to create contrast between the background and the key elements. To create variation, use brighter and darker versions of the same color. How do you do this? It’s easy: Darker color variations are made by lowering brightness and increasing saturation, while brighter color variations are made by increasing brightness and lowering saturation. The other, and more obvious way to create contrast is by employing colors that are direct opposites on the color wheel. 

Wrapping Up

By now, it should be evident how crucial colors are to your UX/UI design. Do not just pick colors at random and hope for the best. The best designs are those that are chosen deliberately. You don’t need to have a natural knack for color, but you do need to keep your people at the heart of your design. If you are not fully confident in your design idea, it doesn’t hurt to workshop your color choices so you can get feedback from your potential customers before you go live. If you stick to the best practices on using colors that we have discussed, we are confident you will reach a new level of success. Good luck and have fun! 

March 24, 2022
by 
Hailey Nalitt
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