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  • Writer's pictureShelagh Markham, Creative Director

Using black in website design - powerful and influential or dark and forbidding?

One of the first things I learnt in art college was colour theory and how black and white were not part of the colour wheel so not technically classed as colours.

When mixing paint we were taught to make colours darker or lighter by using the primary colours of red, yellow and blue. This is because black or white can change the colours so dramatically they overpower and hide the subtleties and hues of the new colour.

However, black is also considered a neutral colour and it can stabilise rich, vibrant colours that might otherwise be too vivid, if used in combination. In colour psychology this is one of the reasons it is considered to be a powerful and influential colour.

When designing websites there is a fine line between a site which uses black being sophisticated and elegant, to one that just looks dark and forbidding. A recent survey found that only 10% of viewers said they preferred dark backgrounds for websites. The key is to use it as a high-contrast and legibility tool.

I took this into consideration when designing Private Chef Gary Martin’s website: I found the fresh, dynamic green of the logo was enhanced rather than being overshadowed/undermined, by the use of black headers and footers. The black also supported the colourful food photos and increased the legibility of the pages. I used a white background for the main body text which lightened and balanced the overall feel. I used black for the main copy text as it’s easy to ready against a white background.

Many fashion designers like using black in their branding.

The following sites use black in their designs to good effect:

Chanel: On this site the starkness of the black logo and the white background with black footer draw the eye towards the stunning haute-couture show photo.

Take the Walk: Black is used extensively on this site but the red accents lift and emphasise the design.

Puma: Puma use a deep black footer and black type extensively across their site. They hace used a blush pink and gold alongside which shows how adaptable black and how it can be used with practically any other colour.

Because of these stabilising properties, black can feel very powerful. However caution should be used as this colour can have some very negative connotations and different meanings in different societies. It can also evoke emotions such as sadness and anger. For example in some countries, black is often associated with evil, death, or mystery.

Used properly, black is a strong and influential colour. It’s often the first thing you notice about a design and sets the tone for all the other supporting elements.


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