Aidan Minton - design lead at Razor - explains why there’s more to colour than meets than eye. Especially in the world of technology.
61% of technology companies use blue as the primary colour in their brand palette. Blue seems to be the colour because of how it makes us feel, but it also says a lot about how far we’ve come.
In the 1980s, IBM targeted the corporate market as a trustworthy IT partner and chose blue to communicate this value. And why wouldn’t they? Blue is most commonly chosen as people’s favourite and it is often associated with power, loyalty and success. It also has a softness, unlike black and grey. Pioneers like IBM and hp, didn’t want to appear as sober and prescriptive organisations, but neither did they want to disrupt the market.
Now technology has evolved at a rate faster than we could have imagined, the colour wheel has begun to spin. Technology isn’t just for men in grey suits in grey skyscrapers. When Apple burst onto the scene and compelled the world to ‘Think Different’ they brought the colours of the rainbow with them, and forward-thinking tech companies followed. Think Google and ebay - even Microsoft copied, eventually. Colourful logos communicate disruption, diversity and a fresh mindset.
Disruptors are also introducing new ways of using colour. Monzo’s hot pink and purple has given personal finance a much-needed shake up. And most users don’t need it to be blue to adopt it, we understand technology, we’ve grown to trust it and we’re eager for a new approach, particularly in banking.
But branding isn’t the only place where colour comes into play, Monzo might have lured in their first customers with the FOMO effect of a neon orange card but inside the mobile app is where colour matters most.
A considered colour palette can elevate a design, but a mediocre or bad colour palette can detract from a user’s overall experience and even interfere with their ability to use a site, platform or app. Let me paint the picture.
UX and colour
Colour is the most versatile tool in a designer’s kit. It can guide attention, convey information and unify elements of the product and the brand.
Within our company, each department views colour slightly differently. Our marketers see colour as mood and feeling, our developers see it only in functionality, but my fellow designers and me, see it as a holistic system, relevant across every possible platform. Our work begins when we start to build out that system. We draw upon the colour psychology used in branding like the tech companies I have mentioned, but in my role at Razor I use colour functionally and aesthetically.
We build websites, mobile applications and web platforms, designed to better the lives of people and supercharge businesses. We also have an appetite for pushing the boundaries, so our design often needs to incorporate tools like chatbots which use AI technology.
Our work always begins with our primary and secondary colours. In UX terms, primary colours extend past Red, Blue and Yellow. Putting these palettes in place from day one, kicks off design work on the front foot. We want to make sure that everything we do creates consistency for our users.
Primary colours are the ones used most frequently in user interfaces. They mostly include colours in branding, interaction elements, layouts and text. Secondary colours are those which make an appearance occasionally, and consist of accents based on our primary picks. They can be used to express system feedback such as task success, error, or warning messages.
Secondary colours can be picked in a variety of ways using all sorts of coordination techniques. And because they nearly always signal something important, it's vital we get them right, even more so with a new feature or functionality.
As most of the organisations we work with already have brand palettes in place, we often find our freedom in secondary colours, working closely with our clients to introduce new colours into the brand palette if necessary. And it’s not always the colours you would expect, despite the business world’s over reliance on grey, we work with palettes of all kinds, think electric blue and acid yellow, anything is a possibility.
We source our secondary colours in a few ways...each of these methods require a colour wheel. Search it up, if you’ve never come across it before, it’ll blow your mind.
Monochromatic - we pick different hues of one colour
Analogous - we select three colours sitting together - next to each other on the colour wheel
Complementary - we select opposite colors, which create high contrast - these colours are opposite each other on the colour wheel
Like the famous quote: “All colours are the friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites.”, in our book, contrast is the key to creating moments of action and engagement within your user interface.
Colour and accessibility
Picking colours sounds like brilliant fun, but it is crucial to consider accessibility. Not everybody is able to experience colours in the same way. Some users might be colour blind, some users might be visually impaired, some users might be in different environments.
There’s a few important lessons to remember.
Rule Number 1: Don’t use colour as the only visual means of conveying information or a crucial action. To get around this and make sure our tools are fit for all our users, we deploy alternative design elements like icons and messages.
Rule Number 2: Ensure sufficient contrast between foreground (text or icons but this also now applied to form borders and other elements) and their background. This might sound like a no-brainer, but it isn’t as simple as white on black, there are tools to calculate the exact contrast ratio. Get this wrong and you risk losing out on huge swathes of your audience. Razor is well-versed in accessibility through working with key organisations supporting the third sector.
So there you have it, blue is not the be all and end all, branding should be just the start of your conversation around colour, especially if you’re embarking on building a brand new digital tool.
Let’s talk design...
Razor is proudly purple, said to symbolise creativity and innovation - not just Chocolate 😉. What’s your brand colour? How do you see it translating in the digital environment? Get in contact with us and let's talk design.
And if you’d love to learn more about the psychology and history behind colour, check out Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St Clair. As a creative designer at heart most of my conversations around colour start with some little-known wisdom from this book.