How to Play with Color on Interface


As UX Designers, we have the power to design a product that can be interacted with million people on the internet. It is our obligation to make sure users can successfully access our website. This means all the users include who have visual impairments, color blind, hearing, cognitive disabilities or problems, who use different devices to access a website, and who uses an old operating system. Yes, there are still people never use a smartphone and don’t know how to use computer.

Ony of the keys to success is enhanced color accessibility so that all the users are able to understand the meaning and information that the color assigned to it.

There are mainly three roles to design color on an interface to help users identify information.  



Source 1. Image from Invision


The effect of contrast on the visual effect is very important. Generally speaking, when the contrast is large, the image is more clear and conspicuous, and the color is more bright and vivid; while the contrast is small, the whole picture is grayed out. Many websites always have the issue with color contrast. It increases the difficulty of low vision people to read and reduce their cognitive abilities. According to W3C’s color contrast rating, it should be 4.5 to 1. This guideline helps users to see and read text on the screen.  


Here are some common Issues can always be seen on the websites:

Light Objects on a Light Background

There is an issue on the internship page of Urban Outfitters(Figure 1). The heading is too light on a light background so the text is not really readable.

Figure 1. Urban Outfitter Internship Page

Color Combination is Too Bright

When choosing the color too bright it will make users look away because the color is very glaring(Figure 2). A bright color usually uses at the button, important layout, alerts, navigation in order to grab users’ attention. Reading this website is no longer enjoyable.

Figure 2. Valley Isle Website

It is also important to remember it is always good to pick two or three base color to give users a good emotion. Here is an example of overusing color:

Figure 3. Ling’s Cars




Color can not only use on visual but also can use on conveying information. Proper use of highlights can attract users’ attention. It helps users locate or receive important information so they won’t miss it. This also helps users who cannot or hard to distinguish one color from another due to vision problems.

According to Figure 4, users can only tell there is an entry error on the first field from the circle with the exclamation mark that tells them something is wrong.

Figure 4.


From Figure 5, because two fields had highlighted, even the second field doesn’t have circle alert, users can easily tell the two fields both have issues.

Figure 5.


Here is another good example of using a highlight on the right side of the image(Figure 6). It uses the highlight to tell users where to find the CVC number, which is very helpful for people who use a credit card to shop online for the first time, most of them do not know what and where is a CVC code.

Figure 6. Credit Card Fields


Pattern and Texture


While using graphs or charts, people with color blindness can not rely on the color to understand or memorize data. Adding texture, patterns, or icons can make sure these people can distinguish data without having to worry about the color that affects their perception(Figure 7 & Figure 8).

Figure 7. Colorblind Friendly Label Pattern by Trello Website

Figure 8. Colorblind Friendly Label Pattern by Trello Website


Good Example

Smashing Magazine

This is a very good example of a website has good color accessibility. The website use three main base colors. Red, white, and dark grey. The ratio is 4.59 to 1. Meanwhile, red is the color grabs the most attention from people. Designers use it as a background color for navigation to tell users where it contains important information they don’t want to miss. The designer also highlights the latest articles heading to grab users attention with red highlight. Since red is already used as a highlight, after finishing reading the navigation, the dark grey will be considered as a second priority by users. The whole design is clean and organized which gives users a clear direction to look for the right information.

Figure 9. Smashing Magazine Website


Maximizing accessibility is our responsibility. Designers not only design product based on their preferences, but to show our respect to our users by making it usable to all of them.

Design Critique: Great Parks of Hamilton County



Great Parks of Hamilton County is a public agency manages 21 parks in Hamilton County, Cincinnati, OH. It plays a very important role for local residents by offering different varieties of activities and recreation, such as special events, educational programs, hiking,, campground and so on. By using the website, people can learn about the park information and decide whether they should go or not before visiting.



Positive Design

With all the information as detail as possible, Great Parks of Hamilton County definitely proves their well understanding of their users and provide the correct guideline. Navigation is the best design of the website, it gives user a great discoverability experience. Visually, the content in the navigation is clear and reasonable. All the most popular park subjects are listed on there and sort by popularity. It also meets the seven stages of action by Norman(Norman, 53). If users move the sensor to the content, a drop down menu will show up. When user selects the content, the hover of color will change to give user feedback and user won’t lose track of it.

Meanwhile, using video as hero background is one of the advantages to promote Great Parks of Hamilton County. Through watching the video on the homepage, user will get to learn and even get attracted to the environment of the parks and their features.

As Norman says, conceptual models need not be very complex(Norman, 14). As long as the information is on user’s side, a user will know how to use it. In this case, user is able to reserve reservation or look up park information directly and quickly instead of going into subsite(Figure 1).

Figure 1. Navigation with drop down menu(Sensor was on the Park content) is clear and organized.

Figure 2. Hero background video is a great promotion for Great Parks of Hamilton County and helps user more understand the parks.


Negative Design

However, there are still two things Great Parks of Hamilton County can improve better. The background video takes over the whole screen, there is a scroll down slider on the bottom of the hero background video but it won’t be seen unless user scrolls down the homepage which against the principle of discoverability(Figure 3). Norman mentions about much human behavior is done subconsciously, without conscious awareness and not available for inspection(Norman, 125). Since the scroll down slider is out of visual, user will assume the page in their side is a completed page and will not scroll down to check more information below the background. Therefore, the events and programs that Great Parks of Hamilton County are hardly seen and promoted. This is a bad example against discoverability principle. Things stay out of user’s side and they won’t use it.

Figure 3. Scroll down slider is hidden below the video background.


There are two solutions. The background video can decrease the height size to 50% of the homepage, so user will be able to see the full video while parts of the spotlight will be shown(Figure 4).  Another one moves up the scroll down slider and increase the slider size to be visible on the screen.


Figure 4. Background video takes half of the space of the homepage.


The color contrast in navigation consider poor and not user-friendly. The color contrast between parks and background color are low, so it comes with very low recognition(Figure 5). It is hard for user to read the content since there is so many information on the drop-down menu, especially for user who has a vision issue, such as myopia, color blindness, astigmatism.

Figure 5. Low color contrast on the navigation



Change the font color of the content from #F9FBF4 to hex white #FFFFFF to increase the contrast. The hover color change from white #FFFFFF to blue #3f5398 to matches with the PARKS on the left menu to give more clear feedback(Figure 6).

Figure 6. Hover color change from white to blue, font color change to hex white.



Overall, this website is considered a good example to meets the principles of Norman in his book. The designer knows well about user and their needs also prioritize for them according to the popularity. Designer also created a clear, organized, visually beautiful homepage, background hero videos increases positive emotion of user, which also builds a good connection between Great Parks of Hamilton County and user.


Norman, Donald A. The Design of Everyday Things. Basic Books, a Member of the Perseus Books Group, 2002