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If You Want Your Website To Make An Impact, You Need To Make It Visually Inviting

Sandra Prior
Jun 4, 2008
Striking visual impact. Instant appeal, instant identity. Compelling navigation system. Everyone loves your web site. The links keep flowing in, and your counter grows and grows. Before a month is out, you have a hot search engine ranking, a write-up in a top directory and a handful of willing contributors. No kidding. Plus, your web site looks damn good. It's a dream, right?

Music for your Eyes

It could be, for sure. But if you put some passion into your colors (passion being the sum total of time, love, inspiration and obsession), you might just hit the big time. You'd have a pretty good chance, in fact. Run the gauntlet of the search engines, and you'll find some 50 per cent of web sites steering their colors precariously between the unimaginative and the out-of-control. So there's plenty of room to make your mark with something one step better. How hard can it be?

When it comes to unimaginative color schemes, look for black text on a white background, with a murky blue or green thrown in for measure, a splash of red for impact and some dodgy GIFs or a badly compressed JPEG.

Out-of-control color combinations might display clashing, marble blue backgrounds with harsh yellow and black text, a badly compressed JPEG and a zillion wriggling GIF animations. Not that any of this is wrong per se. Its just that, thrown together in fear of HTML (everyone's nervous of code, right?), web site color schemes usually come second in the pecking order to 'What the hell am I going to write in this?', 'What on earth is CSS and do I have to use it?', and 'How can I make this look okay when decent graphics take an age to squeeze down the phone line?'

But hold back for a moment, because the Internet is primarily a visual medium. No one likes reading on the web - surfers only read when they already believe it'll be worth it, and dynamic visuals with snippets of text are the fastest way to convince them of that. Forget compression paranoia, forget HTML, CSS and JavaScript, and forget the web critics. Take time to figure out what your web site's about, then start thinking in colors and fonts.

Colors and fonts are your opening gambit. They offer immediate visual impact and they amount to the first impression you give. Make a mess of it and you've lost your visitor at the starting line. Make it brilliant and they're already hooked.

So if fonts and colors set the pace for how visitors uncover your site, then let them set the pace for how you design it too. Everything else will follow, from your layout and style to your graphics and even content. Use crisp, clear and minimalist colors and fonts for a serious, informative and business-like identity. But don't think that has to mean dull.

Use wild fonts and crazy colors for a fun and funky identity, such as Coco-Cola. There's nothing to stop you going extreme - extreme is positive, even in a serious context. It stands out and makes a memorable impression. You just need to keep it under control, and that's the skill.

Holding it Together

We could go on and say that pink and green should never be used, and all that, but frankly its tosh. There's not a rule that can't be broken, and if a color looks great, use it. The problem is how to build something dramatic without it getting horribly garish and out of control. It's actually not that hard, and there's nothing enigmatic and conceptual about building great schemes. You just need to consider the different elements to your pages, what they actually do, and how they need to work together.

Start with your background, since it pretty well governs the rest of your colors. At the same time, you need to be thinking about your main body text, which must be clear and easy to read. And then you need to whip up something special for your navigation element and links - arguably your top concern. They need to be consistent, or they'll get confusing, and they need to be obvious and appealing so surfers use them rather than hot foot it elsewhere.

Backgrounds basically fall into four categories - the white and light (traditional), the black and dark (dramatic, but the text is harder to read), and intense single color (say red or blue - visually strong but tough to work with) and the rainbow look (forget it).

White is the favorite for functional, high info sites. It's easy to read text as long as its dark, its easy to choose other colors because nothing clashes and white shows off pictures well. But it's not especially inspiring, so you'll have to get your drama in some other way - with superb graphics, striking headlines or fantastic photos.

You could try pale cream, which makes for a warmer, softer background, pale blue which gives a cool, crisp look, or another light color. Text is still easily readable, pictures still look great, and you still have the option to use other colors.

Black, on the other hand - said to be the domain of the free speech contingent - makes for a dramatic background, but you need to be aware that text is harder to read. You're almost entirely limited to white and pale colors for your body text, and you can't get away with too much of it at that, but pictures look fantastic and you can cook up some superbly dramatic graphics and navigation widgets.

Bold backgrounds - intense red, blue, green and so on - make for top drama, but you're instantly limited as to what other colors are going to work. Also text can be a real problem - it's the difference in brightness more than color that governs how easy text is to read. But figure out something that works and you've stolen a lead in the impact stakes.

Go for a rainbow and you've shot yourself in the foot, like all those sites with swirly, marbly backgrounds. For sure, tile a background image - choose well and it can be striking - but keep the color range small, so it doesn't spoil your words and graphics.

Once you have something figured for your background and text, the rest follows easily, as long as you keep it simple. Start with just two colors besides your text and background. If you are working on black, try red and yellow. If you need more colors, don't go for a blue - you'll muck everything up. Instead, keep the color scheme tight and use an orange or a paler red. Work with neighboring colors to the ones you already have, and you can't go wrong.

It really is that simple. If your colors look inspiring, visitors to your site will be inspired, and that's what makes them want to come back.
About the Author
Sandra Prior runs her own websites at http://usacomputers.rr.nu and http://sacomputers.rr.nu.
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