One recurring question I have been asked over the last
eight years has been 'Why do most professional
web sites look the same?' Believe it or not, that is
no coincidence, nor is it a lack of imagination on the
part of designers. There are many scientific reasons
for web site uniformity.
When it comes to non-verbal communication, colors and shapes are the most immediate way of getting a meaning across.
Most modern color aesthetics have their roots way back in history when colors meant more than just 'Isn't that pretty?'
In most cases, colors and shapes could identify how useful,
edible or dangerous an object was. For example, if something has yellow and black stripes, most people would think of warning or be alert.
As with any other advertising medium, understanding how color and shape subconsciously affect the viewer is crucial if the aim of the advertising is to be effective.
The first step in any corporate identity is logo design. Logos are often based upon several criteria, such as the type of business, the type of people the company wishes to appeal to, and the main use that the logo will be put to.
If, for example, the logo is primarily going to be for printed use, such as business cards, faxes and letterheads, it should be either a landscape oriented rectangle or square, so that it will keep perspective across the top of a page. When choosing the design, it should also be easily reproducable in as few colors as possible, or printing costs would be astronomical.
When the design is targeted at the web, where you're not limited to only a few colors, there is still a great deal of color psychology that comes into play. If you are a corporate business, especially dealing with money, your web site, and your logo, should utilize colors that symbolize seriousness, authority, trust and security. Such colors are blues, blacks and grays.
A corporate health entity, such as a hospital, would best use pale greens and blues, denoting health, calm, efficiency and cleanliness. Companies dealing with something that already has colors defined in nature, such as a garden center or landscape gardener, would use mostly greens and browns, as these denote the environment, nature, earthiness.
A florist, on the other hand, sells naturally colorful products, and would best use any pastel color found in most flowers. Yellows, pinks, purples and oranges would be ideal. Obviously, a color such as a blue would not be the best choice, as this is not very common in flowers.
When it comes to making online sales, your color scheme can strongly help you reach your target audience. If you are primarily selling products to women, such as beauty products, your best main colors would be purples and pinks, signifying femininity, spirituality, softness, and sophistication. To sell something denoting high-action and outdoors the best colors are yellows, oranges, and reds.
One of the greatest problems with sites on the Internet is the lack of any such planning. I get reports from prospective clients who already have sites that are not reaching their lead or sales generation potential. In a lot of cases, this is because the designer, or the client, has become caught up in the latest trendy thing they have seen online.
Major examples of this are the many metallic, plastic or marble effect sites and logos out there, with their beveled edges, gradients and sunbursts, even if the company has nothing to do with any of these.
Another example of how being trendy may not be your best business friend is in the heavy use of Flash effects in a site, but that is another article.
One final comment about trendiness in business design. If you go with the latest trends in your sites style, colors and logos, it can make your company look like either it has only just started business, or that it is uncomfortable and continually feeling the need to try and find itself. If the trend has long passed, it makes you look dated, and not with the times.
Either way, unless you are in a fast-changing business field, trends may not help you establish a stable, reliable impression with your site visitors.
Terry Young is the founder and CEO of Internet Marketing and Design. Since 1997,
his computer programming and graphic design knowledge have kept his company
at the forefront of the latest technology in web development.