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Choosing Colors in User Interface Design

Choosing Colors in User Interface Design

Selecting a color is an important aspect of website design. It goes beyond just using your favorite colors, and requires you to choose the ones that best suit your target audience. This is why it’s essential to understand colors, their properties and the different relationships between them. Knowing best practices and tools for color design will help you to create compelling websites.

What Is Color?

Color is recognized through the reflection of light from objects. The eyes see color when any object reflects light. It has three main aspects:

  • Hue: Another name for color, and represents the base color, such as yellow, red or blue
  • Value: The lightness or darkness of a hue
  • Intensity: How bright or dull a hue is

What Is the Role of Color in User Interface Designs?

  • It influences people's perception of your website designs.
  • It builds brand recognition.
  • It makes browsing your website more appealing.
  • It draws attention to certain elements of web pages.
  • It gives meaning to designs.

Color Theory

Colors are significant in user interface design and represent the content of your website. Unfortunately, colors that distract and feel unnatural can make designs appear messy. Color theory is the application of art and science that helps to combine colors properly.

Understanding Colors

It’s crucial to understand colors and how to use them in your user interface designs. The different categories of colors include the following:

  1. Primary: The base colors from which other colors are derived. They include yellow, blue, and red.
  2. Secondary: Combinations of primary colors. They include orange, green, and purple.
  3. Tertiary: Combinations of primary and secondary colors. For example, tertiary colors include magenta (red+purple) and violet (blue+purple).

Isolation Effect

The isolation effect is the standard for all designs and gives impact, making an element of your design stand out. For example, isolation effects make it easier for people to recognize your website. Brands make this possible by combining colors that match their designs' different sections.

Color Psychology

Colors have different meanings, and it’s ideal to use the ones that match the concept of your design. Below are commonly accepted feelings associated with each color:

Red: Boldness, power, excitement, strength, passion, desire

Green: Harmony, life, nature, health, balance, freshness

Blue: Professionalism, patience, peace, trustworthiness, stability, honor

Brown: Confidence, comfort, relaxation, durability, reliability, honesty

Yellow: Cheerfulness, brightness, energy, liveliness, happiness, intelligence, fun, warmth

Purple: Nobility, royalty, wealth, luxury, wisdom, mystery

Black: Sophistication, seriousness, elegance

Orange: Friendliness, creativity, courage, youthfulness, adventure

Pink: Affection, romance, peace, care

White: Purity, innocence, simplicity

Color Relationships

Color relationships allow you to choose colors that relate to one another in a unique way. The color wheel shows the relationships between colors. Below is an image of the Canva color wheel followed by explanations of the different color relationships you can use.

Monochromatic Relationship: This involves using one color with different variations of that color, such as shades of blue, shades of green, etc. Monochromatic colors look sophisticated in designs, but the contrast can be minimal, which can make it difficult for specific design elements to stand out. However, you can avoid this by intentionally making your design elements more visible – for example, using bright colors for the text.

Below is an example of a monochromatic relationship.

Complementary Relationship: This uses a pair of colors that lie directly across from each other on the color wheel. Examples include green and red, blue and orange and yellow and purple. The high contrast between complementary colors makes your design bright and noticeable.

It’s ideal to use complementary colors when you want to draw attention to or emphasize certain elements of your designs. However, mobile application designers should avoid using too many complementary colors because their bold contrast can exhaust the eyes quickly.

Triadic Relationship: This uses three colors by picking the colors to the right and left of the base color in the color wheel. The three colors are equal distances from each other on the wheel, forming a triangle shape. Examples of triadic color relationships include purple/green/orange, yellow/blue/red and blue-purple/red-orange/yellow-green.

Triadic colors create a balanced and harmonious relationship. It’s ideal to use triadic colors when you want to make something appear intriguing.

Below is an example of a triadic color relationship:

Analogous Relationship: This choice involves using a group of two or more colors next to each other on the color wheel—for example, red-orange/orange/red or yellow/yellow-green/green. There is mild contrast with this relationship.

Below is an example of an analogous color relationship:

Tips on Color Usage for Your Web Designs

These are general rules of thumb in color usage for creating exceptional designs, and can depend on individual preference:

  • First, when choosing colors for your designs, decide on the desired color relationship.
  • To have a clear and clean design, use a single base color.
  • To draw attention to a design, use a color that stands out.
  • Avoid using one color for your website.
  • Avoid using black for your designs— black can feel unnatural.
  • Be intentional about the colors you choose. Getting the desired response from your audience goes beyond picking your favorite color.
  • If you want to use a lot of colors in your designs, it’s best to use a color tool.

How to Practice Color Usage

To master color usage in your own user interface designs, try out some of these tips:

  • Go to Awwwards or Dribbble
  • Search for a website
  • Pay attention to the use of colors on websites
  • Identify a website with two or more colors
  • Install the chrome extension Colorzilla to be able to find the exact color codes of the colors used on sites
  • Create designs with color schemes on the website to practice
  • If you’re looking for colors for your website or application, try experimenting with different color shades to get the one that meets your needs

Color Tools for Your User Interface Designs

When adding colors, you can use a variety of color tools and websites to assist with color selection in your user interface designs. Here are some great color tools for designers:

  • Canva color wheel: A tool for accessing the color wheel for picking color combinations.
  • Colorzilla: A Chrome extension you can use to pick out colors on a web page to know the exact colors. You can see the colors' codes on the web page.
  • Trycolors: An online color mixing tool that helps you mix colors to get a matching combination.
  • Canva color palette generator: Enables you to choose colors for your designs based on the picture you want to use in the design. It gives you a color combination that matches the image.


Using color in user interface designs is a powerful aspect of website creation. Color beautifies your work and helps you to create unique designs that users can easily navigate. Therefore, learning about and experimenting with color gives your designs an edge.

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