The Psychology of Web Design: Fonts, Color Theory and More

Closeup side view of group of late 20's  team of web designers working on a project. They are gathered around desktop computer and discussing a project. One of the guys is explaining something and pointing at computer screen. There are two men and a women seated next to a large office window.

Effective website design is far more than putting pretty pictures on a page. It’s strategic, complicated, methodical, and ever-changing. By understanding the psychology of web design and the intricate components within, we can build a foundation for both brand development and high-converting digital marketing.

What Defines Good Web Design?

This is a simple question that lacks a simple answer. For some, “good” web design simply means a site that’s appealing to the eye. We know there is far more to it than that though.

For more than a decade, our web designers and SEO experts have perfected the art of engaging web design. We know that user experience matters just as much, if not more,than aesthetics. We also know that a beautiful and functional site won’t yield much without a corresponding search ranking strategy.

Here are some key components of master-level web design:

  • User-friendly features that allow visitors to smoothly navigate the site
  • Fast load times that correspond to Google Core Web Vitals
  • Visually captivating design that doesn’t sacrifice function or search engine optimization
  • A strong balance of multimedia, text and high-quality content
  • Colors and imagery that resonate with the target audience
  • Consistent branding for online and offline content (i.e. a website that looks like the business)
  • Adaptive web design features that transition well between devices
  • Properly tagged images and information snippets that search engines can easily recognize
  • A clean, simple site design that doesn’t look “boring”
  • Eye-catching elements that highlight unique selling features or core values for the brand
  • Scannable content that fulfills search intent
  • Flexibility so that the site can change with the times

Without this combination of features, the design will be slacking in some way. And let’s face it – no one wants to settle for good web design when they can have great web design.

You want a site that’s memorable and straightforward. Something that search engines recognize, visitors enjoy and competitors envy. This requires an in-depth understanding of the psychology of web design, but once you have the right formula, you’re set!

Web Design Color Theory: How Colors Impact User Experience

Color theory is broad and evolving. Its origins date back to the 1800s when Wolfgang von Goethe released a book called Theory of Colors. This publication revealed that colors exist on a spectrum, not as individual components. Goethe analyzed how humans perceive color, which influenced what we now know as color theory.

Colors Evoke Emotions

There are countless color psychology studies that prove colors evoke emotion. Humans naturally associate certain colors with certain feelings, even if the connection is subconscious.

For example, you may find yourself feeling happier and more energized in the spring months. This is partly due to the increased sunlight throughout the day, but it’s also because of the colors in spring. Those fun, vibrant colors are invigorating, which is a sharp contrast to the deep moody colors of fall.

There is some debate about which colors yield which emotions, but the general consensus is as follows:

  • Red is eye-catching and may evoke anger, passion, love or romantic feelings. It can be overwhelming in web design and functions best as an accent color.
  • Orange is energizing and linked to happy feelings. It is less abrasive than red and works well in many web design color schemes.
  • Yellow is vibrant and cheerful, but some hues can hurt the eye. If you use yellow in web design, test it against different color backgrounds to create the desired effect.
  • Green has heavy connotations with money and nature. Thus it can make a site feel organic and clean, or it may make a brand seem substantial and authoritative. Most shades of green work well in web design, regardless of the industry.
  • Blue is calming and creates a sense of trust. This is why it is one of the most popular web design colors for the past, present and future.
  • Purple is associated with creativity, but it is gender specific. Purple is common for sites geared toward women, as men tend to reject purple color schemes.
  • Black is classic and versatile. Used against lighter colors, black is excellent for high-contrast font. When used on a larger scale, black can look modern, sophisticated, artistic or luxurious.
  • Brown is earthy and organic. It creates feelings of tradition and nostalgia that resonate well with an older audience.
  • Pink is playful, feminine and cute. It may appear childish or unprofessional in some settings, so it’s not ideal for most businesses.
  • Grey is neutral and adaptive. An all-grey website may feel depressing, but accents of grey can accentuate other colors within the scheme.

Hues Matter – Color Is Not One-Size-Fits-All

It’s important to note that the hue drastically influences the impact of color. Bright yellow is alarming, but warm yellow is tranquil. Rich maroon red looks professional, but vibrant cherry red feels energized. Two websites may have identical colors but completely different feelings because of the hues.

How the Digital Era Changed Color Theory (Web Safe Colors)

With the internet came a new wave of color theory. Colors became reliant on screens to depict them. Different screens display colors in different ways, which complicates matters for web designers.

This introduced the need for “web safe colors,” a palette of 256 colors that displayed well across most web browsers. If a color sat outside this grouping, it may look completely different on an older computer or browser. Web safe colors limited design options, but they also created a rule book for designers to follow.

Today’s web browsers are far more advanced, so the use of web safe colors is almost obsolete. Some web designers still use these colors as a foundation or guideline, but they are no longer the industry standard.

Web Design Is a Marriage between Technical Parameters and Human Reactions

Functional and engaging web design puts a technical spin on color psychology. How do the colors look in combination with each other? Do they display well on desktop and mobile devices? Do they change between web browsers, and do they reflect the brand as a whole? These are the complex factors our web designers weed through to create long-lasting digital branding.

Web Design Font Selection: Choosing the Right Font for Your Brand

Font is another key component of web design. Most websites use a combination of font styles to create dynamic web designs and draw the eye around the site. Much like with color selection, the psychology of font determines which font styles work best for each brand.

Types of Fonts

There are thousands of fonts available, and that number grows every day. Not all of them are web safe fonts, which means they may not display correctly across all platforms. The common categories of fonts include:

  • Serif fonts (Times New Roman): Traditional-looking fonts with a distinct decorative stroke along the baseline. This font style reads well on paper and online, but it’s not as eye-catching as some other fonts.
  • Sans-serif fonts (Arial, Comic Sans): These are fonts that do not have the decorative serif stroke on the baseline. The letters are straightforward, clean and legible.
  • Cursive (Brush Script MT): Cursive fonts are designed to look like handwriting. The letters connect with one another to mimic the appearance of natural script. Cursive fonts are great for design, but they may be difficult to read in large sets of text.
  • Monospace (Courier): Monospace fonts have equal spacing between letters. The letters themselves each take up the same width, which means the lowercase m and lowercase i are the same size.
  • Decorative or Fantasy (Chalkdust, Stencil, Old English Text): This is a large font category that covers highly stylized fonts. These fonts are great for design elements, but they don’t always display well across platforms. Thus they may be best for flat images, not crawlable web content.

Psychology of Font – Do Fonts Evoke Emotions?

Font selection is mostly about legibility and design impact. Fonts can evoke emotions, but not in the same way colors do. For instance, Comic Sans is considered a controversial font choice. Many people have an adverse reaction to Comic Sans, either because it was overused at one point in their life or they think it looks unprofessional. A different sans-serif, such as Lucida Sans, may not solicit the same reaction.

Font psychology is less about emotional response and more about uniform branding. Select two or three fonts max to use throughout the site, and layer them in a way that’s appealing to the eye. Make sure the fonts are easy to read and transition well between mobile/desktop devices.

Font Sizing and Emphasis (Bold, Italics, etc.)

Changing the size or emphasize of font is the perfect way to break up text without introducing a new font style. Headings and important details are typically larger than paragraph font. Important details within the texts may be bold, italicized, underlined or styled in a different color. Manipulating a single font in several ways can create contrast and guide readers through a page.

Images in Web Design – How Many Images Per Page?

This is a common question in web design: how many images should I use per paragraph, per webpage or per word? Is there a tried and true ratio to follow?

The truth is that you can use as many or as few images as you want. It all depends on what the page is discussing and how it displays on the site. A short 400-word blog post may only have one accompanying image, but a 2,000-word post may need multiple images to break up the text.

That’s the key factor right there, figuring out where images are necessary to break up the text. Readers want to skim and skip to the information they need. A wall of text feels overwhelming, but images create the feeling of pages in a book. Headings, bullet points, charts and featured snippets can further improve readability.

Digital Marketing and Web Design Should Work Hand-in-Hand

Yet another factor that impacts the psychology of web design is how the design helps or hurts digital marketing strategies. This is a technical side of web design that most amateur designers ignore. Will the web design guide visitors through the sales funnel? Is the content well-written and enriched with high-converting keywords? Is the website easy for search engines to index, while simultaneously appealing to the target audience?

Detroit Internet Marketing has been solving these exact problems since 2009. We’ve tested different web design and digital marketing techniques to find optimal solutions for each of our clients. And since the internet is constantly changing, our web designs are made to be both adaptive and durable. We remain up-to-date about upcoming algorithm changes and cutting-edge web design practices, and we optimize our client’s sites accordingly.

If you’d like a complimentary website evaluation or a quote for SEO-friendly web design, contact Detroit Internet Marketing at (248) 234-4830.

Putting It All Together – The Psychology of Web Design Is All about Balance

The psychology of web design requires a masterful balance of function, flexibility and visual interest. Each component is equally important. If you have a beautiful web design that gets no traffic, it’s because the design lacks data-driven content. If you get traffic with no conversions, you may be dealing with faulty navigation or slow load times. If you have a flawless site with jarring colors, you may be pushing potential customers away.

Whether you’re designing a site from scratch or reimagining a site with poor performance, you have to look at the big picture. Pinpoint your target audience and figure out what they want most out of your site. Think of what you want your brand to look like, represent and achieve. Then use that information to tailor the perfect website design.