The colors you choose while designing a website, poster or any other type of image will have a huge impact on whether or not the overall design is successful. After all, there is a lot of psychology behind the colors that people are attracted to, and designers need to incorporate this into everything they do.
Color contrast plays a very valuable role, but it is often overlooked, undervalued and misunderstood. To avoid this problem, you must learn more about color contrast, including how and why you should use it. Once you go beyond the basics of knowing that red and orange aren’t good colors to create contrast but black and white are, you can begin to develop an enhanced aesthetic that will please clients and viewers.
Why is Color Contrast So Useful?
Color contrast, in a nutshell, provides visual intrigue and keeps viewers interested. Consider for a moment how boring it would be if an entire poster was made from one color or only included shades from the same color family. Although there are some instances when this does work from an artistic perspective, it’s not an approach that is likely to grab someone’s attention when they’re perusing store shelves, looking at movie posters or surfing the web. Therefore, it’s wise to use contrasting colors whenever appropriate.
For example, think about the classic Coca-Cola can. If the entire thing was red, it wouldn’t stand out nearly as much as it does. The white writing truly pops off of the red background, which grabs attention and is instantly recognizable. This contrast is visually stunning, and it stands out from its competitors.
How to Best Use Color Contrast
The color choices you make must depend largely on the format that you’re using. The Coca-Cola can provides a great way to explain this process. In a physical product such as a can of soda, the red background works. It also stands out well in print advertising, on TV commercials and much more. But what if you were to attempt to design a website with these same colors?
To put it as bluntly as possible, a solid red website page background with white text on top would be atrocious. A full red background will work, though, if you put a text box on top of it that has a lighter color such as white or tan. From there, you’d most likely want to use black text in the text box to create another layer of contrast. Not only will this approach be more eye-catching but it will also enable people to read the text. Remember: black text on red is very difficult to read.
Other examples of contrasting color combinations that won’t work well on the web and may also be almost indecipherable in other formats include light green on medium green, green on red and red on blue. Instead, consider using white on green and yellow or white on blue. If you must put text on a solid red background, it’s best to use white just like Coca-Cola.
Of course, color contrast isn’t always used to call attention to text. If you’re looking to put two different contrasting colors together to draw the eye to something specific on the page, you can choose between dramatically different colors and the more subtle contrast that is caused by changes in shade, tint and saturation.
Trip Advisor does a nice job of using contrasting colors and white space to direct each user’s eyes to the most important aspects of their search results. The mixture of green and yellow is pleasing to the eye, and they kept the classic blue hyperlink color to make it easy for people to know where to click to learn more. Even better, they chose a bold yellow with black text for their “show prices” button, which stands out so much that people are virtually certain to engage with this call-to-action.
Color-Blindness: What Every Designer Needs to Know
Approximately 8 percent of men worldwide suffer from some form of color-blindness. This condition is much rarer in women, but 1 out of every 17 people with color-blindness is female. In total, 4.5 percent of the world’s population does not see all colors as the rest of the world does.
This may seem like a small enough percentage that you wouldn’t cater to their needs. However, the reality is that in the U.K. alone, 2.7 million people are colorblind. This is something designers really need to consider, especially if they’re creating something that is targeted at men.
Red/green blindness is the most common version of color-blindness. What this means is that the red and green elements of any color will not have their true appearance to these individuals. For instance, a person with red/green blindness will perceive purple as blue. This happens because they’re unable to see the red tone that helps differentiate purple from blue.
As you can imagine, this makes the process of choosing the perfect color contrast even more difficult. If you were to choose green as your primary background color or even as a font color, 4.5 percent of your intended viewing audience may not be able to accurately see everything. They may not even be able to read the words very well depending on the hue you chose and how severe their color-blindness is.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, a color contrast should make both elements stand out, but especially the element that is most important. In other words, if you’re putting text on a colorful background or image, make sure that the words are easy to see and read. Keep your audience in mind and try to steer clear of color combinations that would make the final result difficult for people with color-blindness.
As always, take the time to check your designs from different browsers and devices. Additionally, don’t hesitate to ask a friend, colleague or family member to look at your work with fresh eyes and provide feedback.
For some color contrast inspiration, check out this list of beatifully designed landign pages.