How to make a website (that doesn't suck) 102: choosing colors

On 11/12/2009

In Help to make a website

Website colors everywhere.I know, right? It's practically a miracle that, in spite of your overwhelming urge to create a website, you've been able to hold back this long. Yeah, OK, I first discussed waiting to choose colors before starting to make a website like … 3 weeks ago.

At least.

So if you just couldn't wait, that's understandable – maybe you applied one of our latest ready-made themes (there are now 66 to choose from, which is a lot for a free website builder). If not, then what follows is just for you ...

Now, if you're like my mother, color means just one at a time: that'd be purple for the bathroom (though she'd probably say “no, it's L-A-V-E-N-D-A-R”), blue for the kitchen, and ... well, I'll confess to not remembering what the lounge is (though dark brown seems to ring a bell). You could say she likes the monochromatic approach (it's a no-brainer to match brown with brown, or blue with blue, and know that you'll get it right first time, every time).

But you don't have to limit yourself to one color, and why should you? There are so many to choose from, after all. You do, however, need to understand that not everything goes with everything, and that a website, bathroom, or whatever you happen to be decorating doesn't get proportionally better with each new color you add to it. Trust me.

Thinking about colors is just one part of the bigger design process that goes on before your website goes live. And as I mentioned last time when talking about content, paying some thought to design principles now will save you time and effort later (and possibly avoid scaring visitors away before they've had a chance to see how amazing your content actually is).

Always remember that the colors you choose need to relate to your website content and audience, not to who you are. If, for example, you're selling children's clothing, you might want to avoid going for an all-black site (unless of course you're selling to goths, or specialize in funeral fashion for youngsters). The essential thing is to orient your choice according to your audience, not according to your personal taste.

When you're ready to choose your palette of colors, surf the web for ideas – colors look different on-screen than they do off-screen, so limiting your research to the web helps ensure you'll be happy with the results. As I said last time, don't be afraid to get “inspired” by what other websites do. And get hands on with a color wheel (like this one) to help you decide whether to go for a more sober monochrome look, a brighter, contrasting color scheme, or something in between.

If you're using an online color wheel, don't forget to note down the hex values (the letter-number sequences starting with “#”) of the colors you choose - it'll speed up personalizing your website design later on, and help you apply your colors consistently when you make a website. And remember: you can personalize just about every aspect of the design theme you apply to your website … but you don't have to (lest you want to be the next website featured on our old favorite).