15 Reasons Why Color Theory Matters

Posted on October 30, 2018 | Updated on July 14, 2021

When was the last time you thought about the colors in your designs and how they impact people? There is an entire science to color theory and the psychological impact different colors have on different individuals. Color is part of our lives from the minute we’re born. People have favorite colors, various hues trigger memories and color makes a difference in the first impression we have of a company’s branding.

Since design is a visual medium, color theory becomes even more critical. Here are 15 reasons why you should pay attention to the colors you use in your designs.

1. Reach Different Cultures

Changing the color or even the hue of a color has a different impact on different people. Someone in the United States may feel one emotion from the color red, while someone in Asia may feel another. Study color theory for different cultures and understand which shades work best for the audience you’d like to reach.

What if you need to reach multiple colors? You can either create different landing pages with varying colors, or you can try to hit a happy medium.

2. Use the Color Wheel

Sir Isaac Newton introduced the color wheel in 1706. Back then it was a rotating disk that had complementary colors. The color wheel is a helpful component when studying color theory, and helps designers understand which colors work well together and which don’t.


3. Be Adventurous

Studying color theory and the color wheel is a smart way to learn the basics of color in design. However, you should understand the theories behind the color wheel have changed since the 18th century. As people have studied color theory, used the wheel and learned more about the human brain, ideas about how colors work together have evolved.

Don’t be so tied into theory that you neglect your eye for design. If you think something is aesthetically pleasing and works for your target audience, give it a try. Of course, you’ll want to conduct some split testing to ensure it truly works, but don’t be afraid to try new things.

4. Increase Conversions

Using the right colors increases conversions, turning site visitors into customers. One recent study showed people make 90 percent of quick decisions on purchases based solely on the color of the product. Choose your colors carefully to encourage site visitors to take a specific action.

5. Make a Good First Impression

Users form an impression about the visual appeal of your website in a mere 50 milliseconds. That means they are looking mainly at aesthetics and color. Using color effectively allows you to make a positive first impression in the brief time when the visitor first lands on your page.

6. Evoke an Emotion

In general, different colors evoke different emotions in the viewer. For example, red evokes passion and aggression. Red also grabs attention and makes the viewer sit up and take notice. On the other hand, white creates a virtuous and healthy impression. Remember, some cultures see white as bad luck, so remain aware of your audience.

7. Stand out From the Competition

You can also use color to stand out from your competitors. If your strongest competitor uses mainly red, choose a shade of blue, so consumers know you are two distinct companies. Just be sure to use the same colors across all marketing mediums for consistency.

8. Appear Trustworthy

Have you ever noticed financial institutions almost always use blue for their web designs? The color evokes a feeling of trustworthiness. If you want your customers to see you as solid, steady and trustworthy, use a shade of blue. Of course, you should stick with more businesslike shades of blue, such as navy or royal blue, and not move over into fun shades such as turquoise.

9. Appeal to Women

Overwhelmingly, women prefer purple by 23 percent, while purple doesn’t even rank on men’s radar. About 33 percent of women state they dislike orange. Blue is the most popular color choice with women, with 35 percent stating they like it.

10. Attract Men

Men also like blue, but they choose it as a favorite a lot more than the women’s 35 percent, choosing blue 57 percent of the time. Men’s next favorite color is green, at 14 percent.

11. Choose Contrast

If you want things such as your CTA buttons to stand out to site visitors, you must choose colors that contrast sharply with one another. Even more so, you need shades that contrast. So, a light background would encourage a darker button, and vice versa. If you want your CTA button to stand out, go with a less frequently used color that still complements your overall color palette.

12. Create Balance

Using colors that complement or that your competitors aren’t using isn’t enough. You must also ensure your design has a balance of colors, including the shades used and even how many different colors are on a page. The overall effect needs to be visually pleasing. You want to capture attention, but not create a look that is so busy it hurts the user’s eyes.

13. Use Color Tools

Even though you can pull up a color wheel and choose colors manually, you can also use a free color palette generator to come up with a combination that works well for your design. Doing so ensures you’re using shades that match one another. Most generators offer a mix of darker and lighter colors to allow for contrast.

14. Add White

The key to any good design is a smart use of negative space — aka white space. While white space isn’t always white, it represents space on your page where the eye can rest and nothing is going on. White space creates essential balance on your page and separates different elements of your design.

15. Choose the Main Color

Find one main color you like to represent your brand and serve as the central color of your design. Then, select other colors to complement or contrast with your primary color, depending upon the effect you want.

Trust Your Instincts

You must trust your instincts as a designer. The best color generator in the world doesn’t tell you how your audience will react to a design. Get to know your target audience well, then conduct A/B testing to see which combinations work best for them. Paying attention to detail and the color theory behind your designs will result in more conversions and happier customers.


About The Author

Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her re-reading the Harry Potter series, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or hanging out with her dogs, Bear and Lucy.

2 Comments

  1. Mel on October 31, 2018 at 1:45 am

    For me in design, color elicits attention that can reinforce organization and meaning.

    William Lidwell gives a wonderful insight to the psychological impact on color (https://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/how-colors-affect-you-what-science-reveals.html) where the basics of black & white lead to red. Then, yellow, green and blue, follow. It is not so much a fixed formula, rather understanding context.

    Saturation is such a huge aspect for attention in contrast to desaturation for professionalism friendly (bright) or dark (serious).

    With computers being the output compared to printer, I feel like you can’t overlook the nature of RGB color from greyscale (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQOFPraUNoQ)

    For architecture I found these as great starting resources for palettes:
    Le Corbusier’s palette (https://www.lescouleurs.ch/en/the-colours/colour-keyboards/) and maybe too obvious Sherman Williams (https://www.sherwin-williams.com/homeowners/color/find-and-explore-colors/paint-colors-by-family#/section/timeless)

    It’s gotta work in grayscale first!

    • Eleanor on October 31, 2018 at 7:28 am

      Thank you so much for your insight, Mel! Much appreciated!

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