The Importance of Color in Design

Many things influence the design of the user interface, and the importance of color in design cannot be overstated. In fact, thoughts around an appropriate color palette begin much earlier than you might expect.

In the first phase of the app development process, called discovery, we work with companies to identify their product vision and objectives. Through detailed research, discussion, and strategic analysis, we begin to define and visualize the end product. Although defining the user experience requirements take precedence, our thoughts around how we will use color in design of the user interface also begin to take shape.

A designer’s goal when designing a product experience and interface is to create an aesthetic that effectively communicates the desired message on both a visual and psychological level. For this reason, color decisions made up front can either enhance or detract from other design decisions, and contribute to the overall success of your product. With a practically unlimited gamut of colors available, it might seem that it would be difficult to know where to start when deciding upon color in design of a product. However, there are considerations that can help a designer pinpoint exactly which colors are going to elicit desired responses from their users, and ultimately contribute to a successful product.

Color in Design: Color Psychology

While factors like a user’s personal background, experiences and culture can affect their perception of a specific color, there are general principles of color theory that tend to ring true. Let’s break down the important associations by color and the psychological responses attributed to each.

Red: Red is a warm, intense color that evokes attention and strong emotion. With overall connotations of energy, action, and passion, red is often associated with both love and desire, as well as danger, excitement, and blood.

Orange: Drawing from its parent colors of red and yellow, orange exudes energy and positivity, as well as a sense of adventure and rejuvenation. Orange nods to moments found in nature – a colorful sunset, changing leaves, or fresh fruit. Its playful and youthful connotations are hard to escape, which leaves it feeling less trustworthy and stable than other color options.

Yellow: Yellow is the brightest color on the visible spectrum. Yellow has a strong association with the sun, and is known to elicit feelings of energy, optimism, and creativity.

Green: Green is a positive color, drawing its harmonious and calming nature from neighboring yellow and blue. Green has obvious associations with both nature and money, and elicits feelings of growth, renewal, and abundance.

Blue: Known to be the most trustworthy color, blue is sincere, stable, and tranquil. For this reason, it may also be the most overused color when it comes to design.

Purple: Purple is often associated with spirituality, mysticism, and power. Deriving its strength from neighboring red and its assuring nature from blue, purple exudes confidence, luxury, and balance.

Black: Black is the absence of color, dark in value and in personality. It can evoke feelings of evil, fear, negativity, and hopelessness. Positively, black can represent strength, sophistication, and luxury.

White: White is bright and creates a sense of openness and new beginnings. White often represents purity, peace, hope and cleanliness. Negatively, white can seem cold, sterile, and unfriendly.

Brown: Brown is the color of the earth, and has strong associations with nature, solid foundations, stability, and simplicity.

Gray: Gray is an unemotional color, conveying neutrality and practicality. Gray can evoke feelings of elegance, maturity, stability, and reliability. Sometimes gray can represent feelings of gloom and depression.

Using this foundation of color theory is a great place to start when thinking about the motivation and behaviors you want to encourage in your product’s users. However, its important to note that small shifts in hue, tint, and tone can affect the color palette’s psychological effects. For example, a shift in saturation changes a bright red to a light pink. While retaining red’s connotations of love, it evokes femininity and romance rather than red’s excitement and desire.

Color in Design: Theory

We’ve discussed the color personality by color – but where do we begin in creating color combinations? Often, it makes sense to utilize basic color theory techniques when beginning to create a harmonious color scheme. For example, an analogous palette uses colors that are next to each other on the color wheel, while complimentary colors are directly opposite each other on the color wheel. The images below show some of these color theory techniques visually.

Color in Design: Theory

Its important to consider the personality of your product when thinking about how color will influence your users. An analogous color scheme with three shades of blue is perfect for PayPal’s logo, as the colors evoke feelings of stability and trust. Meanwhile Popsicle’s use of a saturated triadic scheme lends itself to the product’s fun and youthful nature. During the discovery process, we examine how color in design – in addition to elements like tone of voice and positioning – influence your digital product’s personality.


In other cases, designers may feel a product is prime for breaking some color rules. We recently designed a consumer app called Ahaa! that got its inspiration from the classic game of finding shapes in clouds. The dominant color is shades of navy, retaining blue’s associations with the sky, sincerity and tranquility that the app calls for. However, this “game of perspectives” puts a creative twist on a classic concept, so we did something similar with the color scheme. By introducing hot pink to a mostly blue color scheme, the app communicates a playfulness and charm that the blues alone don’t convey.

Ahaa! app
Concluding Thoughts

Users form first impressions of digital products almost immediately, so it’s critical to be intentional when deciding how to use color in design. If you’re curious to learn more about why color matters and how color plays a role in all our visual experiences, we encourage you to read this post. Either way, know that we will be thinking about and employing concepts like color theory when we design your app!

Contact us today if you’d like to discuss an idea.