Cool or Just Common? Blue is the Web’s Most Popular Color

Is the color blue enriching your website, or did you choose a different strategy? If you chose blue, you are not alone.

After scraping color codes from the world’s top 10 most visited websites in September of 2016, including Google, Facebook, and Twitter, designer Paul Hebert deemed blue the most popular color. It’s not just the default #ooooEE blue that you see coloring hyperlinks, either. Hebert found a variation of blue hues that are popular among the most widely trafficked websites.

The blue trend sheds an important light on the way some designers approach the experience of their web audience. Designers are frequently caught trying to please a multitude of individuals with a variety of different preferences, which can lead designers to look to current trends for creative inspiration.

Does that mean that blue is a one-size-fits-all for every brand? Hardly. Staying on top of trends in user interface and user experience (UI/UX) is critical, but it doesn’t mean jumping on the bandwagon is always the best approach. Determining whether to strategically incorporate trends like the color blue — or intentionally push against them to stand out — are important branding decisions that are sure to vary from one business to the next.

How can you determine which colors work best for your brand? Let’s start by looking into some of the reasons behind the tonal trend.

What’s Behind Blue’s Online Popularity?

If you want to know what’s working in web design, take a look at what other successful brands are doing. That was Paul Hebert’s thinking when he started tracking which colors the most popular websites were using some four years ago. After creating a tool that helped him identify the colors on home pages and style sheets of the most visited websites, Hebert discovered the color blue was an overwhelmingly prominent design choice online.

Pantone Color Institute Vice President Laurie Pressman sheds light on some of the reasons behind the color blue’s online popularity. “Blue is not only the most popular color on the web today, it is also the most popular color on the spectrum internationally. Long associated with the serenity of a clear blue sky, and the cleansing waters of tranquil seas, the human mind embraces the concept of blue as constant, translating it into a symbolic message of dependability and loyalty.”

According to Pressman, the increased popularity of UI/UX methodologies has influenced the popularity of blue in web design. “We trust blue — it is there for us every day. It doesn’t interfere with our world; instead it welcomes and reassures us. The blues are also gender-neutral. The most popular color family across both sexes around the world, blue connects our global culture.”

The all-inclusive nature of the color blue may be another reason behind blue’s online popularity. An estimated 10 percent of the population is red-green colorblind, making blue a cool color everyone can get on board with. According to a 2010 article featured in The New Yorker, blue is Mark Zuckerberg’s color of choice precisely for that reason (and the fact that he himself is colorblind).

Is Blue Always the Best Design Choice?

Just because blue is the most popular color in web design today, it doesn’t mean every brand should drop what they’re doing and focus on a blue-only strategy. According to Gage Salzano, senior designer at creative studio Nelson Cash, there is a common-sense explanation for blue’s popularity online, as well as a few good reasons why some brands may want to avoid the color.

“Blue is the most popular color period, not just in web design,” Salzano says. “I think blue is the most common color used in design of all types. Why? I think because it’s not controversial or polarizing.” To Salzano, blue speaks to safety, professionalism, and security. With the color blue, there are no surprises to be had.

But sometimes a little surprise is a good thing. “Oftentimes, when we pitch branding concepts at Nelson Cash, we avoid blue unless there’s a good conceptual reason for it,” Salzano says. “This is simply to stand out. I have to imagine that’s the same reason a handful of companies have rebranded in the past couple of years to move away from blue.”

Adobe Experience Design Manager Sonja Hernandez has a similar take. “I am not in favor of making any design decision based on whether it follows a trend or not. It is more important for the design to reflect what is appropriate for the product or company and how that communicates to the user. Trends come and go over the years, and if what you are designing will need to be around for a while, it’s probably best to not date it by giving it a look that matches a specific current trend.”

Few examples of the need to focus on long-term branding in design are better than Adobe red. “The Adobe red A is one of the most recognized brands,” says Hernandez. “The continued use of this over the years has built brand equity, and it’s hard for me to imagine the Adobe logo any other way.”

Is Blue the Right Color for Your Brand?

Thinking about betting on blue? Not so fast. While the popularity of blue online is undeniable, there are several factors you should consider before overhauling your website, beginning with color connotation.

Know your audience and how they perceive color. Color connotation is the interpretation of what people believe different colors mean, and it varies from one culture to the next, so making design choices based on audience demographics and location is key.

Other color considerations include the imagery your brand is trying to convey to its audience. An airline or spring water bottling company might consider choosing blue because it reminds people of the sky or water, respectively. Paul Hebert points out one color choice that has been shown to appeal to our appetites. “A lot of the time you’ll see orange in relation to food,” Hebert says. “Restaurants will use orange colors [because] some of that orange almost stimulates the appetite.”

Consider saturation and value. Color saturation and value, according to Hebert, also play a crucial role in web design. “Saturated colors stand out more and draw the eye, while the less saturated colors support other colors in the scheme. Then, when it comes to value . . . you generally see contrasting value. So, they’ll have some really low value colors, maybe the background color is a light white or tan and then to contrast with that, they’ll have a higher-value color like a black that stands out against the low-value color.”

Test your choices. Finally, improving UI/UX can’t be done without incorporating tools that allow designers to test-drive the user experience and ensure the design and color appeals to a variety of users. All-in-one solutions such as Adobe XD allow faster iteration of design choices, thus helping UX designers quickly get to prototype and solicit feedback faster.

Your Brand’s Color Strategy

Regardless of the brand-specific design choices creative teams need to make, one thing is clear: dropping a color strategy that’s working to follow a trend is rarely a good idea. It is, however, a good idea to remember the basics — understand your audience and how they will receive the messages your designs are sending. Is there a valid conceptual reason to use a color, or will it simply cause your designs to blend in with the crowd? Does your design need to present itself as cool and collected, or would a fiery red theme better portray your design’s tenacity and strength? But if blue is the color for you, you are in good company.