10 Essential Color Tips in App Design

Color palette.

Yesterday we shared our experiments with app design using Radiant Orchid, Pantone’s 2014 Color of the Year. Today, we continue the color conversation with 10 tips on how to use color effectively and keep apps from looking trendy and dated.

At Sourcebits our designers pay a lot of attention to color when we’re building and redesigning applications. Existing brand guidelines, color theory, user testing and overall style sensibilities play an important role in the look and feel of any product. When you’re working with color for mobile design, whether it’s Android, iOS or another platform, keep these things in mind:

5 Best Practices for Using Color In App Design

 

1. Great color palettes should combine seamlessly with UI elements. Color is a critical element of your app design, but it should enhance the user’s ability to interact with the app—not detract from it.

2. Color should help distinguish important elements and break up sections. One of the most important elements of color is its ability to draw the eye. Make sure to take advantage of this to pull focus to the elements of your app that need it.

3. Proper color usage will convey a style or mood. An orange color palette might convey hopefulness and optimism, while a cool blue palette will convey a calmer, more serene feel. Make sure when you select your colors, you’re making an informed choice. If you need a refresher on color theory, Color Matters has some excellent resources.

4. Bright hues draw the eye. Use them carefully to differentiate important information and highlight interactive elements.

5. Formulate a consistent color palette. Most people have no difficulty recognizing Facebook blue or Target red. Don’t design in a vacuum—your app design needs to exist in context with your website and any physical elements of your company. Create a balanced color palette and be consistent in its usage, and your own visual brand gains more familiarity and user recognition.

5 Color Mistakes That Can Make Your App Look Dated

 

1. Not being consistent with your brand colors. It’s important that your app’s color identity all hangs together. Bring in too many unrelated colors and you risk winding up with eBay, circa 2000.

2. Failing to understand color combinations. Know your complementary and supplementary colors, and use them judiciously when you need to draw attention to a UI element.

3. Ignoring readability. All the gorgeous color in the world won’t make a bit of difference if you’ve made your text and icons unreadable. Color should support the functionality of the app, not distract from it.

4. Not understanding the psychology of color. The context and significance of color changes over time, and has different meaning depending on cultures and geographies. Children love purple, and in Japan it’s a symbol of power. But in the United Kingdom, Brazil and Thailand, it’s the color of mourning or death. Make sure your color choices convey the message you intend to your target audience.

5. Disregarding the basic OS graphical style. Remember, your own app isn’t the only color palette you need to be sensitive to! iOS, Android, and Windows devices all have their own unique color palettes and graphical styles, and your app design needs to work within that framework. If you’re hesitant, take advantage of tools like our own ChocolateChip-UI, which allows you to easily customize elements of your UI to whatever mobile device your audience is using.

Judicious use of color is incredibly important in design. It can make the difference between a mediocre app and a great one. If you have any concerns about color use on your own project, please contact us!

David

David Forgash, our Senior Creative Director at Sourcebits, originally studied to be a doctor, but a love for art drove him to make the switch, and he’s never looked back. David’s design work can also be seen onboard the International Space Station and Mars Rovers.