Passionate, Aggressive, Important
As a dominating colour, red adds gravity and heightened awareness – quite literally, as the colour increases blood circulation, breathing rates, and metabolism. Red can take on a variety of meaning, associated with both love and war, but the unifying factor in all meanings is a sense of importance. Think of the red carpet.
Playful, Energetic, Cheap
Sharing red’s energizing aspects, but to a safer degree, orange is a good way to add excitement to a site without severity. It is generally playful, and some claim it creates haste and plays on impulse. It can even signify health, suggesting vitality and vibrance.
Happy, Friendly, Warning
Yellow is a strange colour: it is often associated with happiness, but also activates the anxiety center of the brain. Like red and orange, it’s able to stimulate and vitalize – it’s the colour of warning signs and taxis – but use bright yellow sparingly because of the potential negative connotations. Lighter shades play on the happiness aspects, reminding users of summer and the sun. Darker shades, including gold, add more weight and give a sense of antiquity.
Natural, Stable, Prosperous
Green mostly represents the environment and outdoors, for obvious reasons, making it the clear choice to suggest nature and an organic quality. As the bridge between stimulating warm colours (red, orange, yellow) and calming cool colours (blue, purple), it is the most balanced of colours, lending it an air of stability. It’s also a popular choice as an accent or for calls-to-action because it stands out, but more softly than the warmer colours. In Western Culture, it also represents money and financial safety.
Serene, Trustworthy, Inviting
Blue is one of the most popular colours in web design – and for good reason. You see blue on a lot of websites because, to put it simply, it is the colour of trust. Blue is the colour of calm and serenity, and as such inspires security and a feeling of safety. For this reason, blue is a colour often used by banks: CitiBank, Chase, Capital One. However the calming effects also make blue a friendly and inviting colour, which explains its adoption by Facebook and Twitter.
As if that weren’t reason enough to use it, blue is also incredibly versatile; its vibrancy has more drastic effects than other colours. Light blue is the colour of water and the sky, so it generally has a refreshing and free feeling – even energizing if bright enough, but still retaining that reliable calm.
Darker blues tend to be more somber, heightening the security aspects, which makes them an excellent choice for professionalism. All this comes at a small price, though: blue shouldn’t be used for food-related sites. Because blue foods aren’t common in the wild, studies show that the colour actually acts as an appetite suppressant.
Luxurious, Mysterious, Romantic
Long associated with royalty, purple creates an air of luxury, even decadence. Using a purple dominantly is a quick way to create a sense of elegance or high-end appeal, even if your product is budget-minded (an “expensive” effect that’s quite the opposite of orange).
Lighter shades of purple bring to mind spring and romance, especially lavender. Darker shades of purple add more mystery, and can even symbolize creativity. Darkening the shade will also turn the romantic elements more sensual.
Feminine, Young, Innocent
Pink is a specialized colour that won’t work for a lot of sites, but will work perfectly with the right audience. Because most people interpret people as feminine, the colour is quite popular for targeting female users.
The connotations with childhood and with sugary treats gives it a sweet, sometimes innocent appeal (not surprisingly a self-perpetuating cycle). It is also traditionally used with love and romantic themes, alongside red and light purple.
Earthy, Sturdy, Rustic
While not a popular choice in web design, brown can, under the right circumstances, be effective nonetheless. As the colour associated with the earth and trees, brown can add an outdoorsy feel, maximized by a pairing with green. The tree connotations also give a sturdy and reliable feeling.
In web design, brown is most often used in conjunction with wood texturing, giving the same old-fashioned and rustic atmosphere of a wooden cabin.
Powerful, Sophisticated, Edgy
As the strongest of all colours, black is often used only sparingly – such as for text – but it works quite well as a primary colour element (like for backgrounds). Much like purple, it adds an air of sophistication and elegance, and also mystery, though with much bolder confidence.
Clean, Virtuous, Healthy
Literally the opposite of black, white pairs well with just about anything, making it ideal as a secondary colour. In a supporting role, white draws out the elements of more stimulating colours, and can even guide your user’s attention if you know how to use it.
As a primary colour, though, white gives off an impression that is both clean and chaste. Almost sterile, white has that “spotless” feeling that, for the right site, feels completely effortless. Its association with “good” and “holiness” give it a virtuous and pious feeling as well, while its association with hospitals and medical staff give it a healthy feeling.
However, sometimes this sterile effect is too strong, even to the point of distraction, which counters its primary purpose. In these situations, an ivory or cream works better. These offshoots of white are softer and even less noticeable, but with the same minimalistic and complementary aspects. They are the more comforting and less stark alternatives to white.
Neutral, Formal, Gloomy
As the intermediary between black and white, gray exudes neutrality, or a lack of any particular sensation. However, in the hands of an expert, this intermediary position can be a powerful tool.
By varying the vibrancy, gray takes on the properties of either black or white – attention grabbing or repelling – to specific degrees. That means if black is too powerful for your design, try dark gray. If white is too bland, try light gray. On its own, though, gray is rich with individual characteristics. It is the colour of formality, and so sites aiming to look traditional or professional tend to favor it.
It can also give a depressing vibe, as it’s the colour of gloomy and rainy days. When used dominantly, it can be somewhat subduing, for better or worse.