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The Role of Color in UX Design

6 min read
Atul Naithani

Written by Atul Naithani

8 September, 2021

One of the major factors driving choices of color in UX design is the psychological impact it has on the user. While a lot of people might deem a color choice to be an embellishment of sorts, every color has a specific mood and niche in the color palette in general.

While a carefully curated color palette can provide a huge boost to user experience, a hastily selected one can become a hindrance in the ability of the user to navigate the UI properly and even deter them from using it further.

While a lot of UI UX design companies will just think of how to make the page appear beautiful, color theory is much more layered than that. Once they know about the factors that color theory espouses, they can add colors which might look a bit surprising at the first glance, to great effect.

Color Psychology

One might argue that the impact of any color will be subjective and personal but there are traits of color psychology that can be addressed on a general level. The meanings of the primary, secondary and tertiary colors are somewhat similar. The constituents of a traditional color palette and how colors are perceived within different cultural niches.

The emotional impact of colors is again a very tricky topic to deal with. Even though the feelings evoked by colors like black and white and gray are constant, a slight change in one of those colors can cause variations in their perception. The use of a particular color in an unorthodox manner which is traditionally associated with something else can also create ripples in the minds of the users.

How does culture determine perception of color?

One of the major factors that designers need to consider is how culture determines the perception of color. For example, the color white has multiple implications in multiple cultures. In western societies, white is taken to be a symbol of purity and peace. In Asian countries however, white is the color of mourning.

Very few colors evoke a consistent emotion across borders, and this is where it gets tricky for a UX developer. One of the main jobs is to eliminate the negative connotations implied by a particular color while targeting a larger heterogeneous audience base. If his target audience is limited to a particular country which has a cultural homogeneity, then one need not bother about selecting colors which are semantically inclusive.

Using colors that stand for your brand value

Color palettes of any kind should corroborate with what your brand stands for. Besides, you should also take industry norms into account. Your UX shouldn’t resemble a close competitor because if the color palette is the same then it might not help you stand out in the herd of your competitors. Confusion in the minds of the public is never good especially when you are trying to carve out an identity for your brand.

Sometimes you need to be careful about the colors you use. For example, if the color people associate with your brand is red and you are using that color to denote something negative, there will be a disparity in your manifestation and what people perceive. Hence, it is advisable to create a color palette that doesn’t portray your brand in a negative light.

Even if you take two competitors whose color palettes might look the same, they are known to switch between primary and secondary colors to create a subtle difference. If your color happens to be the same, it depends on your usage of color. The first step to knowing how to create a color palette for your brand is to understand what each color stands for. Let us see what the colors stand for:

1.    Red

Red is a very strong color and it evokes excitement and also indicates danger. When it is lightened to pink, it gives off a more feminine aura and when it is deepened to maroon it gives off a more sombre look

2.    Orange

Orange is the color of excitement as well and because of its stylised appearance it can be used as a retro theme.

3.    Yellow

Often associated with optimism and youthful exuberance, yellow has often been used in UI to attract attention of the younger generation. Lighter shades of yellow have been used in creative designs while darker shades are indicative of affluence.

Using unorthodox UX colors

Using colors that generally people will shy away from using is something that you can do. This will make your UI look quirky and at the same time set your brand apart. However, you need to understand the mechanics of these combinations from specialists well and not just randomly create a color palette.

If your website is of a somber nature then you could start with switching the accent color to something bright so that it doesn’t only cater to the run-of-the-mill viewer but also a younger crowd. 

The 60-30-10 rule

The 60-30-10 rule is a tried and tested method that a lot of developers have tried to create a balanced and a visually appealing color palette. A fairly neutral color makes up 60% of the space, 30% of the space is taken up by a color that complements the primary color and the rest of the 10% is dominated by accent colors.

This method gives a chance to the designers to experiment with creation of unique color palettes without trying to be too quirky and sometimes even bordering on the edge of the industry norms. Using this form and adding a hue which catches everyone by surprise can add to the appeal of the UI.

Using Interactive colors

Using colors as tools to make sure that people are interacting with your website is something that designers are known to do. If you use a certain color on a tool of your UI, a regular user will slowly start associating that color to the tool and very soon the color will achieve a synonymous meaning.

Developers have also used different shades of the same color to convey a difference in the status of the function. 

Data Visualization

Simply put, data visualization stands for the graphical representation of data and information using graphs and charts. Data visualization is very important to discern patterns from information-heavy sets and makes trends accessible to the user.

Data visualization in UX makes more sense because our eyes are trained to read shapes. The culture of existence today is very visually driven and hence having data visualization with different colors signifying different things, as a part of your UI can engage people more than just written content. This is why people today prefer this over massively data-heavy spreadsheets.

Why is the Accessibility test important?

By testing accessibility of a website, you make your website more inclusive for people with disabilities. The disabilities can range from motor disabilities to blindness and hearing impairments. Testing the accessibility of your UI makes sure that you are not creating barriers and your user base is not hampered by an ableist design.

If you are wondering how to make your website accessible to everyone then here are certain things that you can do:

  1. Use alternative text for images
  2. The UI should be operable with keyboard
  3. People who use assistive technology look for meaningful information on the UI
  4. The UI should be robust enough for it to be viewed on different devices.
  5. Using cross-hatching to differentiate parts of the interface is something you should do, because differentiation with just colors can limit accessibility.

While color theory can be a bit tricky for those who are starting out, once you get a hang of it, it will come naturally to you. At the end of the day, creating an appropriate color palette is about sound decision-making.

Atul Naithani

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