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Why is Facebook blue? The perception of colour

How do tint, tone and shade influence the user experience? Find out how to use the best colour palette in your site designs to engage and excite

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Screen shot 2014-12-10 at 12.05.23

WHY COLOUR MATTERS

If asked, “Why does colour matter?”, the most obvious answer would be, “Because if the world was black and white, it would be a boring place”.
Colour matters for many reasons. Familiarity, is one. We know bananas are yellow, the sky is blue and the grass is green, and if that changed it would throw us. In nature, such changes aren’t likely, but what if overnight someone decided that hot taps should be pink and cold taps should be purple? Or that green no longer meant ‘go’ at traffic lights?

We know blue is cold and red is hot. No other message is needed; colour gives us all the information we need, which is true of most places in the world. So, in many cases, colour transcends language. Beyond its functional uses, colour affects moods. Different hues evoke different emotions. Research conducted by governments, brands and designers, reveals the effects that different colours has on people. Most simply, it brings meaning to life. When something has colour, it acquires its own unique style. Just by being a certain colour, an object forms an idea in peoples’ minds.

HOW COLOUR WORKS ON THE WEB

In the golden age of the web that we’re experiencing now, we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to colour. There’s more options available to us than we can physically determine (16,777,216 to be precise) and it’s all too easy to forget that once upon a time, it was a mere 216 colours that had to suffice. Thanks to computers themselves only supporting 256 colours, and in order to create a standardised method for displaying colour, these 216 were selected. But despite today’s increase to over 16 million, the principle for creating and displaying colours on the web remains with the same mix it always has: red, green and blue. Each has 256 shades that can be combined together to form virtually any colour you could imagine, or visibly recognise.

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Web colours are described through the humble Hexadecimal value – effectively a three part algorithm made from varying intensities of Red (R), Green (G) and Blue (B) values, starting with the absence of all colour, black (or 00), to the presence of all colour, white (or FF). Before you get carried away and start dipping your paintbrush into those 16 million colours, be mindful of the fact that all screens can, and will, display differently. This is particularly relevant as we enter the omnichannel age of web access via tablets, phones and TVs. We’ve all designed concepts on our beautiful 24-inch cinema display that when viewed on the client’s four-year-old Toughbook appears wildly different. The more far out the colour you use, the higher the chance of it displaying poorly. Neons, for example, may not ‘pop’ as much, or delicate shades of cream or grey may not show at all. So always test on several types of screen before signing anything off.

BUILDING A BRAND

Who owns red? Who owns orange? Who owns purple? Reaching a stage where your brand is recognised through colour alone is a testament to how effective a marketing tool it is.
But there’s more to colour selection than something that looks nice on packaging, TV adverts or magazines. Finding the right colour is not easy and is something of an art form for brands.

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Let’s look at easyJet which is a great example. They arrived and turned the air travel industry upside down with their no-frills cheaper way to fly. It was a simplistic, bold move, and they needed to own a bold colour to convey their message of value and efficiency – who else could step up to handle a task other than bright orange? Before long, orange became more representative of easyJet than for any other brand using orange – including Orange themselves.

WHY IS FACEBOOK BLUE?

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In a study conducted in the Fourties by Faber Birren and again in 2003 by Joe Hallock, into the perception of colour by individuals, some interesting correlations arose around why certain colours evoke feelings and emotions better than others when linked to brands. It also begins to explain why brands select the colours they do.

The most surprising result was that both men and women voted blue as their favourite colour. It wasn’t by some small margin either as 35 per cent of all females surveyed would choose blue over any other colour followed by purple at 23 per cent. However 57 per cent of men cited blue as their favourite colour with the next choice being green at 14 per cent.
Looking at how this breaks down into age, blue appeared top of all ages surveyed with people in their twenties, thirties, fourties and fifties, all choosing hues with shorter wave lengths (blue, green purple) whereas younger audiences (those 19 and under) had a preference for brighter, longer-wave colours (red, orange, yellow).

If we look at Facebook’s demographic, which has roughly a 60 to 40 ratio leaning to a female audience and an average age of 40, finding a colour popularised by its typical user would seem a logical choice. So with a bit of research it would have almost been a no-brainer for the company to choose a colour that suited as many people as possible.
But what is it about blue that people love? Again, the results of the survey spoke for themselves. Answers to the questions “what colour do you associate with high quality, trust, security, reliability/dependency and courage/bravery” were all met with blue on top. When you think about it, what brand wouldn’t want this type of association? So it would seem, while not terribly original, blue statistically has a solid purpose for its ubiquity.

TOOLS YOU CAN TRUST

Adobe Kuler

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Over the years, the designer’s sidekick, Kuler (pronounced ‘colour’), has gone from being a behemoth flash website to a more nimble HTML5 application plugging directly into various Adobe desktop apps. A crowdsourced platform for thousands of colour palettes searchable by phrase, it also provides a wide variety of options (or “Color Rule” for creating your own unique colour palette using a simple, intuitive interface. There may only be five colours to choose from at any one time, but you can explore the most popular palettes at the moment and get inspired.

The beauty of using the Kuler app is the variety and intensity of colour that it can provide. As well as being inspiring it gets guaranteed results. If you are on the lookout for a colour palette that will provide a winning collection of colours, this is undoubtedly a tool you need in your creative arsenal. Plus, it has the added bonus of being really simple to use.

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