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Colour is vital to the repertoir of your average Web designer, and yet many designers don’t realize that the colours they choose may be having more of an effect than they realize. Colours are an element of design that people react to on a visceral level. Often, they don’t realize they are reacting to it. For example, in the U.S. many hospitals dress their nurses in light blues and pale pinks. This is because these are calming, soothing colours, and upset patients relax a little in their presence. Once you understand your audience make up you can create a colour scheme that suits them.
When choosing the colours for your site, you need to first (as always) think of your audience. Is it a global audience? Is it primarily Western? Eastern? Are they older? Younger? Male? Female? All of these things, and more can affect the colour choices for your site.
Colours obtain symbolism through cultural references in the culture you grew up in. Depending upon the culture, colours can have very different meanings and actually cause problems for your site. For example, in the East, white is the colour of funerals while in the West white is the colour of Weddings. If you were to design a Wedding site intended for an Asian audience and you used a lot of whites, you could be disturbing the people you’re trying to reach.
Young children tend to prefer brighter, more solid colours, while adults tend to prefer more subdued colours. If you’re writing to an audience of children and you’re using muted pastels and shades of grey, their parents might like it, but the kids will be long gone before the page finishes loading.
Marketing research in the United States has shown that working class people tend to prefer colours that you can name: like blue, red, green, etc. While more highly educated classes tend to prefer colours that are more obscure: like taupe, azure, mauve, etc. This is why Walmart does their store logo in bright red.
In many cultures, men tend to prefer cooler colours (blues and greens) while women tend to prefer warmer colours (reds and oranges). Western men are also more likely to be colour blind and so unable to see some of the differences in colour on Web pages.
Colours, like everything else in design, go through ins and outs in popularity. Black Web pages were all the rage a few years ago, and now you hardly see it at all (but it will surely come back into style as I write this). Colours also tend towards seasonality, in other words, the designs reflect the season they were built in: winter blacks, whites, and greys; spring greens and bright colours; summer yellows; fall browns and golds.
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