Colour and it’s relationship to usability

This June I had the priviledge of doing some travelling in Saskatchewan – speaking at both PrairieDevCon and MosoConf. At PrarieDevCon, I was fortunate to have the time to attend a UX session by David Alpert (who will also be presenting at SDEC11 in Winnipeg this fall). I haven’t spent a lot of time doing UX research, but his presentation opened my eyes to a few things. One of these is the targetted use of colour to direct the user to what is most important to you (and maybe to them). In the presentation David demonstrated this concept with several examples from live sites where the use of two colours is used to direct the user to certain actions.

As I returned to work the following week, I noticed that a change was made to our internal dashboard at Protegra. A reminders and announcements section was added and highlighted in yellow/green while the rest of the site remained in blue. Everytime I looked at this site and my eyes were drawn to the words highlighted by the use of colour I thought of David’s presentation.

Here are few other examples that David showed to us to demonstrate how the use of colour could be used to influence user behaviour effectively:

1. Twitter
What are they trying to get you to do?

Sign-Up is highlighted in yellow to attract new users while Search and Sign-in are blue like the rest of the site. Twitter is assuming that if you are already signed up then you are committed to finding the Sign In button on your own.

2. JetBlue
What is important to them?

Fly Now and Find Flights are highlighted in orange and they are using other more subtle UX strategies so that you will know the first bag is free and that they now offer vacation packages.

3. Facebook
What are they trying to influence you to do?

Sign-Up is highlighted in Green for new users, while Log In is smaller and in blue – just like twitter, facebook is assuming if you are already signed up you are committed to finding the Log In button on your own.

David’s presentation has peaked my interest and I’ll be looking to find other ways to use colour like this on projects (external facing or not) to guide the user to the actions we would like them to take and discourage them from unwanted actions or workflows. Also, as the Dashboard example shows, it isn’t just about highlighting buttons – it can also be about highlighting sections of the site.

Thanks David.

You can find more positive and negative examples and other UX strategies in his presentation found on his site – or join us at SDEC11 to hear him present.

Re-posted from

About WinnipegAgilist

Steve Rogalsky - An agilist and team member at Protegra with a passion for agile and lean principles and practices. Green bar addict, agile player/coach, teacher, dad, husband. Email: steve.rogalsky at protegra dot com


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