Color Theory and UIColor theory is used for web pages, painting, photography; virtually anything that makes use of color to help communicate something to a viewer. Generally speaking, color theory is looked upon as a field of scientific study which breaks down into three basic categories:

  • The Color Wheel
  • Color Harmony
  • Color Context

How the colors within each category are intentionally used to create an effect which will elicit a specific or general response is the application of color theory. If it were as simple as mapping colors to effect and response, then design would be a quick and straightforward matter as far as color is concerned. It is, however, somewhat more complex than that and must also take into account the psychology of the viewer. To further complicate the matter, not everyone views the same color the same way.

Identify and Understand Your Target Audience

More often than not, art and photography are meant to create an emotional response from the viewer. UX design is similar in that regard, but it is also meant to direct a user towards a certain action, help certain information become embedded in the user’s memory and assist a user to intuit function from form and color.

In order to accomplish these goals utilizing color theory, you must identity your target audience. The perception of color is subjective and is affected by several factors including culture, age and social status, among others. There are four areas of importance when applying color theory to a UX.

  • Know the product for which the UX is being designed
  • Define the primary demographic for the product
  • Understand how colors are perceived by the majority of the people within that demographic
  • Marry form and function within the UX design

That is a simplified overview, but it covers the essentials. The subconscious mind reacts automatically to colors and color combinations, without any conscious effort or awareness on the part of the viewer. The UX designer not only has to understand colors and forms, but also psychology in order to predict the reaction of the end user.

Understanding the Spectrum of Colors

The three categories of color theory already mentioned represent different approaches to applying the colors, which themselves can be broken down into three segments.

  • Level 1: Primary, secondary, and tertiary colors
  • Level 2: Warm, cool, and neutral palettes
  • Level 3: Color properties – hue, chroma, shade, and saturation

A thorough knowledge of these levels allow you to make appropriate color choices for a based on the desired response to be evoked within a target demographic. So what colors do what? It’s not completely cut and dry, but there are a few generalities.

Primary colors are:

  • Red: Passion, danger, attention, love. Great for grabbing attention and highlighting important information. Overuse can be overwhelming to users.
  • Yellow: Energy, happiness, gender-neutral. With high saturation, conveys wealth or age.
  • Blue: Responsibility, sadness, coldness, security

Secondary and tertiary colors:

  • Green: Wealth, nature, vibrancy, growth.
  • Purple: Luxury, wealth, opulence. In some cultures it also represents death or change.
  • Orange: Risk, spontaneity, autumn, warmth.

Warm colors are great for evoking:

  • Movement
  • Passion
  • Attention
  • Happiness

Cool colors are used to convey:

  • Security
  • Stability
  • Wealth
  • Professionalism

Neutral or earthy colors are passive, and this type of palette works well to fill negative space and to create a clean, professional appearance.

It is not within the scope of this article to explain all of the colors, but some links have been provided within the text which will lead to further and more specific information.

Although this is basic information, it should give you some idea of what goes into effective UX design. Maybe you will see the underlying principles of a web page design or application interface, or maybe you will begin to better understand how to design one yourself.