Color is ubiquitous across all platforms of visual based technology. It is vital regardless of whether you are designing a sleek social media platform, or trying to sell shoes with a boutique online storefront. QuickSprout found that 92.6% of people report the number one influence affecting their decision to purchase is the visual dimension. The user’s perception of color and its effect on their emotions makes it indispensable to focus on the theory of color when designing digital spaces.

The most important part of color is its ability to give a digital design context without adding clutter to a page. At the simplest level, color can emphasize and subdue elements and attract users to specific parts of your design. As technology continues to reduce the need for face to face interactions in all facets of daily life, color theory serves as a way for designers and developers to communicate the emotion they want associated with their service. In this guide, we’ll show you how to break down color theory and apply it to your designs.

Color Theory Basics

The system we commonly use for development in the digital space is known as RGB. RGB represents the primary color space—red, green, and blue. All other colors are created through a varying combination of these primary three colors. The secondary colors are created by mixing the primaries, and yields purple, orange, and green. It’s important to have a general grasp of the color wheel due to the role it plays in creating color schemes.


Believe it or not, color selection can actually be used to convey the feeling of temperature. A warm and inviting image typically boasts high levels of reds and yellows to create the perception of heat. On the other hand, blue can be utilized to create cool, relaxing environments. It’s important to consider overall temperature when selecting colors and images due to the impact that these colors create.

Temperature can be used to create unified themes along the same family of colors, as well as to create dramatic contrast. Notice that complimentary colors on the wheel always feature one warm color and one cool color. Varying temperature is a great way to create the initial feel of a site and provide natural looking contrast. However, temperature is just one of the many parameters of color theory that impacts the way designs are perceived.

Tints and Shades

In color theory, tints and shades are mixtures of a base color with either white or black to increase or decrease the perceived lightness of that color. For example, creating different tints of a blue color results in the creation of light toned cool colors such as light blue, baby blue, or even powder blue. Generally, darker colors convey a sense of seriousness and confidence while lighter colors create a playful and lightweight feel.

Color Schemes on the Web

A color scheme is a pairing of different color families from the color wheel. There are many different patterns to create consistently good looking color schemes based on what your end goal is. For example, a monochrome tone where just tint, shade, and saturation are changed for a single base color, the end result will be unified, but somewhat dreary. On the other hand, a complementary color scheme where two colors on opposite sides of the color wheel are selected, the end result is poignant and contrasting.

The best place to start when considering creating a new or altering a current color scheme is your current customer base. Colors cater very differently depending on the audience you are trying to reach. Kissmetrics looks at the websites for L’Oréal Paris and to exemplify the importance of color theory to select colors based on target audience. NinjaJump, a site selling bouncy houses intended for children parties, uses a bright them with a white background—inducing happiness and grabbing attention. On the other hand, Kissmetrics states that brown and orange should be avoided when advertising to women, and the L’Oréal Paris site proves this by taking advantage of a black, white, and purple theme invoking a sleek, sexy, and luxurious feel.

For example, the website for organic supermarkets features a very “organic” color pallet. The background features a textured beige that allows the dark brown menus to pop. The green text and banner provide contrast to display the logo and advertisement for new store openings. Overall, the feel of the page is very natural and organic due to the analogous color scheme the website utilizes. Through this careful selection of color pallet, Lazy Acres essentially creates the same feel for the online user that there in-store shoppers feel.

Another great color scheme is that of The site features muted tones of light green and light pink, all on a white background. While this is a classic example of a complimentary color scheme, the white background and highly tinted colors provide a sufficiently contrasting design while still remaining airy and playful—and this aligns with the goals of Enjoy Cupcakes as a business. Enjoy Cupcakes creates bold gourmet designs contrasted against a playful method of delivery: the cupcake. The best color schemes are always created with the goal of the business and the customer’s perception in mind.

The take away is: it’s important to find a color scheme that suits the goal of your design. Perhaps if clicks are your girl, a vibrant complementary color scheme would be desirable for your sign up section. However, if you are trying to invoke a balanced yet unified feeling interaction between elements on the page, it may be better to utilize a triadic color scheme to tie everything together.  Color schemes are really where you get to draw some emotion out of the user—there is no other place where you can alter impression, mood, feel, and look simultaneously.

The Takeaway

Currently, the primary method of communication between technology and user is visual. This alone makes color theory massively important—when creating a digital space, you should always look for insight from your brand and customers before making decisions about color selection. Color theory assists in creating a design that you know will reach your target audience. By altering simple parameters such as temperature, tint and shade, as well as overall color scheme, you can achieve immensely different digital environments.