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Color: A Great Storytelling Device for Your Website

My husband, Graeme, is into comic books. So much so, in fact, that he’s dedicated part of his professional writing career to writing about them. As the wife of one so enamored of words-with-pictures, you can imagine that I too have enjoyed some comics in our time together, sometimes if only by proxy.

You might be wondering what this has to do with making websites… you see, comics rely heavily on color to help tell stories, and that’s a great lesson for creating websites. Here are some examples:

Notice that the woman is set apart by a different color palette, communicating that she is disconnected from her environment, and the colors convey a sadness.

You can immediately see the differentiation between the spaces in the interior and exterior, and you can feel that these characters aren’t people you want to spend alot of time with.

This page is a flashback sequence, and the sepia coloring in the characters communicates that the memory is about the people, and not the place.

And there’s a wonderful blog about this, from Jordie Bellaire, a comic colorist. She examines color palettes both in comics and films on her site in a feature titled, “Hey, Nice Palette.”

You know this already, of course, that colors evoke a mood. So when it comes to choosing the colors for your website, in addition to the functional decisions re: display contrast and considerations for color blind users, etc… how do you decide what colors to use?

Like with many considerations when it comes to your website, you go back to the goals for the site.

If the goal of your site is to sell a product, think about who the audience for that product is and what you want them to feel about it. Remember, you’re telling your existing/potential customer a story about why your product is desirable and important to them.

As an example, lets say you sell flashlights on your website. Flashlights are often used in emergencies, such as when the power is out. So you want people to feel that your flashlight is there for them; that it’s solidly build and reliable. You want them to think that your flashlight is easy-to-use and will do the job without much intervention. So the colors you choose will convey those sentiments — strong, approachable, reliable, clean, clear. You want colors that aren’t tinted or shaded, but are vibrant and vivid. And you don’t need color saturation throughout the site, maybe just some hits of color here and there, with black and white to dominate.

Another example might be if you were selling a book — author websites, and websites about specific books should extend the visual tapestry of the book, especially in fiction. If your book is historic fiction set in the autumn, you want color saturation, with warm shades and tints throughout.

And in all cases, be sure to consider the colors you’re using in your existing branding, photos and graphics. You want everything to coexist nicely — it can be difficult to create a soft, ethereal website with a logo in black, red & white with a lime-green tinted feature photo.

And remember, your website aesthetic can be simple, clean and usable no matter what color palette you choose. White backgrounds are common, and do convey a sense of simplicity, but don’t feel boxed in by that notion. If a light grey or beige background with a subtle texture serves your website better, don’t sacrifice that because white is many people’s default choice.

Just as the text you choose, the graphics and/or photos you use, and your branding send a message, so too does the color palette of your website. It tells the story about what you and your product are all about. And it does it more quickly then just about anything else.


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Web Designer Kate McMillanKate McMillan creates websites for authors, small businesses & nonprofit organizations that are clean, easy-to-use, and goal-oriented so that her clients have a successful platform to support what they love to do.

With more than a decade of experience, Kate not only creates beautiful, easy-to-use, fresh designs, but also helps you make strategic decisions about your whole web presence, soup to nuts.

If you're interested in talking with Kate about your project, get in touch with her to schedule a chat.


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