Operating an international e-commerce website has its challenges — finding a payment processor who allows you to process in multiple currencies and making sure your website will properly translate into multiple languages are just a few. One of the most important things to keep in mind when designing your site is that different cultures associate different symbolisms with colors. You can find hundreds of articles on the Web that talk about color psychology, but I bet you didn’t know that your customers in the United States associate the color red with something completely different from your customers in Russia.
If you’re targeting an audience in a specific country, do a bit of research to make sure your color scheme isn’t sending the wrong message. Below is a chart that compares each of the eight basic colors (yes, I know white isn’t a color — humor me!) and their symbolisms across the world.
|Western Hemisphere||Eastern Hemisphere|
|Red||General: energy, danger, warning, love, passion, anger
Cherokees: success and triumph
|General: prosperity and good fortune
China: used in weddings, funerals, and other festive events, good luck
Japan: life, anger, danger
South Africa: mourning
|Orange||General: affordable or inexpensive items
Ireland: religious color of Protestants
|General: happiness and spirituality|
|Yellow||General:hope, joy, cowardice, caution||General: sacred, imperial
India: sacred, symbol of a merchant
Thailand: represents Buddhism, royalty
Middle East: happiness and prosperity
|Green||General: luck, spring, nature, jealousy, greed
USA: money, jealousy
Ireland: religious color for Irish Catholics, color symbol for the country of Ireland
South America: death
|General: new life, fertility, hope
China: new life, hope, disgrace, exorcism
India: color of Islam, hope, harvest, virtue
Japan: eternal life, youthfulness
Indonesia: a forbidden color
|Blue||General: trust, peace, baby boys, depression
Columbia: associated with soap
Mexico: mourning, serenity
China: feminine color, associated with pornography
India: color of Lord Krishna
Egypt: virtue, protection
Belgium: color for baby girls
|Purple||General: royalty, spirituality, military honor
Brazil: death and mourning
India: sorrow and comforting
Japan: privilege and wealth
|Black||General: death, funerals, mourning, power, rebellion||General: wealth, health, and prosperity
China: color for young boys
India: evil and anger
Thailand: bad luck, unhappiness
Middle East: evil, mystery
Africa: age and wisdom
|White||General: brides, weddings, angels, peace, purity, hospitals, cleanliness||General: death, funerals, mourning, sadness
China: death, humility, age, misfortune
Korea: purity, innocence, birth and death
Middle East: purity, mourning
Color Psychology in Web Design – Don’t Rule It Out Completely!
Don’t get me wrong — traditional color psychology should still play a vital role in web design. With a fine arts background, I had to take a color theory class while in college. One of my projects revolved around Robert Plutchik’s wheel of emotions. His wheel associates basic emotions to colors. My project, a chart of portraits where the model depicted the eight basic emotions, reinforced Plutchik’s theory.
Each of the eight basic emotions on Plutchik’s wheel coordinates with one of eight basic hues — the purest and brightest form of color. Each pair of hues and emotions fades and becomes less intense. For example, the red hue portrays rage, lessening down into anger, and finally annoyance. The chart below lists each pair of hues and emotions.
|Basic Hue||Basic Emotion||Lighter Hue/Emotion||Lightest Hue/Emotion|
Choosing a Color Scheme
When deciding on a color scheme for your website, you should consider both color symbolism and color psychology — and depending on what part of the world you live in, they may even been the same thing. Let’s take McDonald’s website for example.
The primary colors on McDonald’s website are red, yellow, and white. While red evokes a feeling of anger (which may be so for parents whose children constantly beg for Happy Meals), some view red as a color of excitement and energy. As you can easily see from the smiley face on the Happy Meal box, yellow evokes a feeling of happiness. Since it is a US-based franchise, the white signifies a sense of cleanliness and purity — a wise move to steer away from the fact that most of the food served isn’t exactly healthy.
Now let’s take a look at another well-known brand’s website: Marlboro cigarettes.
Being another US-based company, figuring out what the colors mean on this site is simple. The brand represents cigarettes and tobacco, a huge health hazard. Red evokes a feeling of danger and rage while black reminds viewers of death. On the bright side, at least they aren’t pretending to be something they’re not!
Since I don’t want to end a blog post on the thought of death and illness, let’s look at one more example website: Ford, another well-known brand.
Although there isn’t an actual color scheme to Ford’s website, the designers were wise in choosing the colors they did. Set on a natural landscape with a bright blue sky (amazement, peace, trust), vibrant green grass and mountains (nature, luck, apprehension), and a blacktop road (power, rebellion), they carefully places three different colored vehicles.
What do these websites make you think of? What are some other websites with dominant and obvious color schemes? What do you consider when choosing a color scheme for your website?