The Oban Blog

How multi-cultural multivariate analysis can be as simple as pie (not π).

A well-designed website separates content (text) from design (layout, colour, etc). Your content resides in your HTML pages and your design predominantly lives in the CSS style sheets written for the site.

Any website designer will tell you that perhaps the easiest thing to change on a website with the greatest visual impact is the colours. Most sites have a set of colours used to make up the site: background foreground, callouts, menu highlights, headings, link and visited links, header and footer, and probably much much more.

Changing the colours of a website is a simple matter of copying the style sheets and referencing the new style sheets in the site, and changing the colours in the new style sheets.

It is also relatively easy, either programmatically or using a tool, to consistently present one version of the site to each user that visits. i.e. run a colour based multivariate experiment.

I have run a number of these in the past with wildly varying results; I have seen site significantly improve conversion with very little effort and I’ve also seen sites that colour seems to have little impact on. Whichever yours is, I’d urge you to try some color based multivariate testing.

Colour and demographics

Colour is part of the website designer’s armoury, but many designers haven’t really researched colour preferences in different demographic groups and so are not properly equipped to design websites. People react to colours in an emotive way and make subliminal judgments as a result. So, once you know who your audience is, the choice of colour becomes very important.

Who is your audience? Consider these factors:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Culture
  • Wealth
  • Class
  • Education
  • Geography
  • Vogue

Age

Studies have shown that infants and young children like more primary and solid rather than textured colours. Adults tend to like more subtle colours and this effect increases with age. If you are targeting a site at children then subtle is not the order of the day, unless of course, you are aiming at their parents.

Culture

Different colours may have different symbolic means within each culture. So any given colour can vary dramatically in meaning depending on the cultural background of the user. One of the most iconic and extreme of these differences is the colour for funerals: black in the west and white in the east. To someone from the East, a Western wedding website might look rather funereal.

Gender

In most (but not all) cultures men have a preference for cooler colours (blue and green). And, women have a preference for warmers colours like orange and red.

Some men, particularly in the west are colour blind; colour blindness affects about 7-10% of the population. The most prevalent type is Red-green, but there are many other types (see Wikipedia). Since colour blindness may be a cause of accessibility issues (some elements of the site may be invisible to an affected person) I would recommend running your website through a colour blindness filter to see how a colour blind person would see your site.

Vogue

Colours do have cycles of popularity and varying meaning within a culture in reaction to current events or context. For example, during an election period, the colours of the leading parties are in the Zeitgeist. Colour trends also move with the season. A red and white site at Christmas (with attending snow and other Christmas paraphernalia) means something quite different to the viewer than a red and white site in the summer without the Christmas decorations.

Class

This is a difficult factor to asses, as class tends to vary culturally too and education is a factor as well. However, research in the US indicates that working-class users tend to prefer nameable colours like blue, red, green, etc. More educated classes have a tenancy to prefer more obscure colours. This is why brands in ‘red red’ are so popular with ubiquitous products like Coke or Virgin (UK).

Cultural Color Chart

(taken from http://webdesign.about.com/od/color/a/bl_colorculture.htm)

Red

  • China: Good luck, celebration, summoning
  • Cherokees: Success, triumph
  • India: Purity
  • South Africa: Color of mourning
  • Russia: Bolsheviks and Communism
  • Eastern: Worn by brides
  • Western: Excitement, danger, love, passion, stop, Christmas (with green)

Orange

  • Ireland: Religious (Protestants)
  • Western: Halloween (with black), creativity, autumn

Yellow

  • China: Nourishing
  • Egypt: Colour of mourning
  • Japan: Courage
  • India: Merchants
  • Western: Hope, hazards, coward

Green

  • China: Green hats indicate a man’s wife is cheating on him, exorcism
  • India: Islam
  • Ireland: Symbol of the entire country
  • Western: Spring, new birth, go, Saint Patrick’s Day, Christmas (with red)

Blue

  • Cherokees: Defeat, trouble
  • Iran: Color of heaven and spirituality
  • Western: Depression, sadness, conservative, corporate, “something blue” bridal tradition

Purple

  • Thailand: Color of mourning (widows)
  • Western: Royalty

White

  • Japan: White carnation symbolizes death
  • Eastern: Funerals
  • Western: Brides, angels, good guys, hospitals, doctors, peace (white dove)

Black

  • China: Color for young boys
  • Western: Funerals, death, Halloween (with orange), bad guys, rebellion

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