Can Black Websites appeal to the Masses?
I was recently designing a website with the intentions were to set it apart from its competition – taking an idea that was reasonably common and making it cool. Clean, black with a few vibrant bursts of light and colour, the tone was set with a focus on nightlife, the coolest restaurants, bars and cafes, VIP treatment, fun nights, the whole shebang. Then the owner asked “is it too cool?” Good question.
The website needs to set itself apart and have a cleaner, cooler feel, but it also needs to embrace all audiences as the intentions are for it to become a mainstream website. So I began to do a bit of research into the top 25 most visited websites to gain some insight into their colouring schemes. I had anticipated my findings to some degree, but what surprised me was that for all of the top 25 websites – there was very little colour and even fewer signs of black or dark colour schemes. It became quite evident that this was much more than just a co-incidence. I began to wonder – are dark and colourful websites a pre-requisite for failure when aiming to target a mainstream audience?
Below is an image of the screenshots of the top 12 most visited websites. What becomes clear is that most of them have no background graphic or colour and they’re left predominantly white. For western websites, blue seems the most popular choice in colour, while a number of the top Chinese websites opt for Red and yellow – the national colours.
So I began to research the psychology of colour. When it comes to branding, black is an extremely powerful colour/shade and it also is for websites. Black can set a strong tone, which can be used to great success for a niche website, such as for a fashion label or for a company aiming to convey a clean, stylish, timeless, elite feel. Leading brands such as Nike and Oakley have used black to great effect. For a mainstream website though, it is perhaps too strong, too authoritative and overpowering. White text on black backgrounds is also believed to create greater strain on the eyes and therefore is better used only in headings rather than bodies of content.
White on the other hand is neutral, people have little prejudice for or against it, it is a blank canvas and therefore gives the content complete prominence, leading to no distractions and ease of navigation. White also goes with everything, making it a good background colour for content and allows easy reading of text. It is also associated with purity and as people are often suspicious of websites and how their personal information might be used, as well as powers and authorities (the top 25 websites are certainly powerful), it leads them to perhaps be less suspecting. This matched with their often colourful and fun logos (google, ebay), helps to create a euphemism for just how big and powerful they actually are.
Blue is the most popular colour – a colour most common in our daily lives – the colour of the oceans and the sky. It is easy on the eye andas a cool colour has a soothing, calming effect. Blue is the prominent choice with most of the major websites and is used extensively for the colour of choice with phone apps. Most of the major players seem to go with blue – Google, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Amazon, LinkedIn, Drpobox and Foursquare. The dominance of blue is evident when brands such as Google and ebay – with multi-coloured logos opt for blue.
Grey – Grey is also a popular choice for websites and computer software as like white, it is neutral, timeless and conveys a sense of practicality and stability. It can be reasonably bland when used in bulk but many websites use it to great effect for certain elements such as in footers. Being associated with stability is important for user confidence and helps the website look professional and rigorous in its development.
Red – Most emotive – great in small bursts. Used well by brands such as McDonalds, Coca-cola and Virgin. Can be overwhelming when used a lot on websites.
Green – Like blue, it is most common in nature and therefore it is very easy on the eye and relaxing. People tend to associate green with peace and harmony.
Purple – The colour of luxury and sophistication. It is rare in nature and therefore if overdone can project a sense of artificial. It is the most popular colour choice for young girls though so depending on the target audience could be used to great effect.
Brown – Another common colour in nature – like grey, it is considered reliable and solid.
Orange – Most flamboyant colour – it is associated with fresh optimism, Like red, it demands attention, but as a powerful colour can easily overwhelm if overused. The Tour de France is evident to the success of orange to stand out – You will never miss an Euskaltel-Eskadi rider.
Yellow – Like orange, very attention grabbing – optimistic but can overwhelm.
Colour is the first thing that someone notices when visiting a website, so it is important to get right. First impressions can be the difference between success and failure. Colour also has a big impact on the strain caused to eyes and even the users psychology, so has far greater implications than just first impressions. If the text is clear to read, the backgrounds are neutral, with the use of soothing colours and in small doses attention grabbing colours, the ingredients are there, at least not to scare people away. Whether the website has content worth looking at will be up to you, but it’s always best to give yourself every chance.
So back to drawing board!
AUTHOR: Josh O’Meara