Choose the perfect colour palette for your website

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While there are many steps in creating a website, branding is one of the most important. Whether you're working for another company or simply designing your own web design portfolio, it's vital to choose an approachable and relatable colour palette. This can seem a bit tricky, but don’t fret! In this article I'll offer some advice for finding the right colour palette for you, using psychological studies and colour theory.

Know what emotions colours evoke

You may have an idea of what you’d like the colour palette for your business to be, but before you set anything in stone, try to take a look at what the colours you’re thinking of using actually mean. That means asking: Do the colours convey the right emotions and are they attractive to my target market? It might seem like a silly question, but you can gain a lot of insight by looking into the psychology of colours. 

Think of the logos of some companies you know, like Coca Cola, Facebook and Apple. They are three incredibly recognisable brands, all of which you can likely recall the colour of their logos as red, blue, and white. For a more in-depth look at this, take a look at our article on outstanding uses of colour in branding.

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While a logo’s colour may seem like a casual choice made by the brand, you can be assured a lot of thought went into it. The colours used in the logos of these brands exude what they stand for – or at the very least, what they’re trying to stand for.

If you're confused or lacking inspiration, the best place is to start is by playing around with some online colour tools. There are plenty of these around, and you'll find our pick of the best ones in our roundup of the best colour tools for web designers.

Choose your dominant colours

Once you're feeling inspired enough, you can begin choosing your main or ‘dominant’ palette colours. These are the colours that you will want your target audience to recognise you by. They will adorn your website and business cards, so it’s important to get them right. 

While it’s not imperative, you’ll most likely only want two dominant colours, with the others left as accent colours (we'll cover these later on). It’s also important to note that out of your two dominant colours, one will be used more than the other in your branding materials, whether it be a website, banner or anything else.

Explore different tones and tints to find the right balance

Explore different tones and tints to find the right balance

First and foremost, your dominant palette colours should either complement each other or contrast well together, and neither should outshine one another. If they do, you can play with tints, tones and shades to find a happy balance between the two. Here’s a quick explanation of these last terms:

  • Tones: Mixing grey to a pure colour
  • Tint: Mixing white to a pure colour
  • Shades: Mixing black to a pure colour

This isn’t a step that’s to be rushed, as these will be the defining colours of your brand. You’ll be happy that you spent the extra time finding the perfect colour values.

Choose your accent colour(s)

Accent colours play an incredibly important role – they’re supposed to draw your viewer’s eyes to something you want to highlight. A poor choice can make people miss what’s essential for you. Accent colours are usually bolder than your dominant colours.

Accent colours draw attention to key elements (here, the orange CTA)

Accent colours draw attention to key elements (here, the orange CTA)

For your website, accent colours are best applied to elements like your navigation menu, calls to action and other crucial items that you would like to showcase. A great example of a successful accent colour application can be found in the Design Conference template by Wix.com. The red accents on the menu show you what section of the page you are on and the bright Buy Tickets call to action is begging to be clicked.

Apply with the 60-30-10 rule

With your colour palette complete, it’s time to give yourself a pat on the back, but you’re not done just yet. The way you actually apply your colour scheme matters, and you can let the popular 60-30-10 rule guide you: use 60 per cent of your dominant colour, 30 per cent of your secondary colour and 10 per cent of your accent colour. When it comes to web design, you can rework the rule as 60 per cent negative space, 30 per cent content, and 10 per cent ‘call to action’ elements.

This is a good rule of thumb when applying your colour palette

This is a good rule of thumb when applying your colour palette

One good way to visualise this rule comes from MMI Creative: “Think of a man in a business suit: 60 per cent is the slacks and jacket, 30 per cent is the shirt, and 10 per cent is the tie”. By following this rule, you will be able to achieve balance both in colour and content for your website. 

This article originally appeared in net magazine issue #302. Subscribe here.

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