Color: A Major Design Impact

Colors have a major impact on human behavior

“Most people are unaware of the profound effect color has on their behavior.” -Kenneth Fehrman, co-author of Color: The Secret Influence

Color has a huge impact on our behavior. According to scientific research, when light hits our retina, the light waves are converted into electrical impulses that hit the part of the brain responsible for managing our biological clock (e.g. sleep patterns, sexual and reproductive functions, appetite, body temperature, etc.).  As you can image, color can quickly solicit a response, especially a subconscious one! For example, say you noticed something flying around in your peripheral vision. The only thing you can really observe, without turning your head, is the color and motion of the object. If the color happens to be black or navy blue, you might swat at it without a second thought, thinking it’s a pesky fly. Now if you saw yellow you may recoil, as yellow might be a bee, hornet or yellow jacket. Without even looking directly, the human mind will make a decision in a matter of seconds, even milliseconds, based on the color. So, choose your colors wisely. You want colors that will engage your audience and drive them to action, like buying your product or service, or returning to your site. You don’t want to recoil your audience before they even get a chance to read your message.

So, let’s think about tone, both in terms of verbiage and color.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

Tone: (noun) 6: a style or manner of expression in speaking or writing

7 a(1): color quality or value (2): a tint or shade of color

b: the color that appreciably modifies a hue or white or black 3

In a nutshell, it’s how you talk and the shades of color you use while interacting with your audience. Let’s start with language and how you talk. You’ll want to pick words that describe your ideal tone. If you are a yoga teacher, perhaps you want to take on a calming and assuring tone that will make your audience feel relaxed and safe on your website. For my holistic healing website, from my previous article on mood boarding, I want to create a tone of empathy, safety, and support.

But how do I turn those words into a color scheme? One way is to turn each into an element within the page, specifically, into action items, eye catching information, and a neutral space for the content to reside.

Pick warm colors to draw the eye to action items

Warmer colors tend to be associated with action. Red is a perfect example of driving people away, as it is closely associated with blood and hazard signs. Others use it as a “power” color, like a red tie, to energize the person to feel more confident and ready to make that sale. Yellow, most associated with the sun, gives a more playful feeling that entices people to feel energized and happy.

Empathy is the ability to share someone’s emotions. I can feel empathy or I can act empathetic towards someone. When I feel someone is empathetic towards me, I get a warm feeling of being understood. So, in this case, I would want to use a warm color to represent empathy on my website, especially when they are taking action to interact with me. I want them to feel an empathetic ear is listening on the other side.

Cool colors to balance and keep the eye focused on information

Cool colors tend to have a relaxing and soothing effect. Blue, for instance, is a tranquil color. If the sky is blue, rather than grey with clouds, it can mean its going to be a nice warm day. Green can produce a sense of growth, as we see it most with plants and trees, demonstrating vitality and life.

Support would be the best word associated with a cool color. You can lay down in the cool green grass, or float in the water, while looking up at the sky. The stems of flowers and plants are green, supporting the beautiful flowers.  

And neutral colors for supporting the content

The neutral color is the main backdrop of the whole image. Paintings start on a white canvas, which can be painted over or left alone to emphasize the subject. The sandy tan-colored beaches provide an excellent background for starfish or attractive sub bathers. Black really allows the stars to shine bright in the night sky.

People want to heal from a place of safety. So I must pick a backdrop that will help my audience feel they have a safe space to learn, grow and heal. The brown dirt helps the plant grow big and strong. The grey bank safe keep the money secure away from robbers. The white operating room keeps the room spotless from possibly contaminants and disease.

Now pick the right colors that set the tone.

Now that I know that I want a warm, a cool and a neutral color that represents the website characteristics (i.e. empathy, safety, and support), let’s take a look back at the mood board developed in my previous article, Mood Boarding, and see which colors fall into these categories.

Mood board for color scheme

  • For warmth I have a lot of yellow a little bit of red and orange.
  • For cool I have green (various shades), blue (in various shades), and purple (also in various shades).
  • For a neutral color we have white, light gray, and various shades of brown.

So for my actionable items, I’ll want to make them orange-yellow/gold, since it is more present in my mood board. Yellow is known to create happiness and warmth, which is pretty close to my sense of empathy towards others. The reason I didn’t choose red is because it is a very aggressive color that can be threatening to people in a vulnerable situation.

For my informative attention grabbing items, I’ll want to use a turquoise, as seen in the meditating figure in the upper right corner. This color is most associated with femininity, spirituality, healing, and protection – all relating back to my desire to provoke a sense of support to my growing readers.

For the background or main content I will go with a light brown. It is also the color of mature tree trunks that can withstand great storms, the ground we can bury our dearest possessions, or where we build our home. It is a safe and nurturing color.

Website Colors - ColorPallet

In my next article, we’ll explore typography and it’s role in maintaining engagement and making important content memorable.  


1: Fehrman, Kenneth, and Cherie Fehrman. Color: The Secret Influence. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000.

2: Wright, Angela. “How It Works – Colour Affects.” How It Works – Colour Affects. Accessed June 13, 2016.

3: Merriam-Webster. Accessed June 13, 2016.


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