Any international marketer worth his or her salt knows that different cultures view colors differently. For example, red is the color of danger and immediacy in the US, while it is the color of joy in China. Blue is a color of trust in the US, while most other cultures consider it rather bland. Black is seen as sophisticated in some cultures and tired in others. The list goes on and on.
So, it is no wonder that an international marketer needs to carefully consider the colors on international or regional websites. To make it even more complicated, however, recent research has identified that there are also five color concepts related to how consumers view websites that must be considered.
Aesthetics: Consumers look a website’s color scheme in terms of artistic appeal. Based on the consumer’s culture, the same color could be seen as beautiful (such as red in China) or jarring (red in the US).
Affective: Consumers look at a website’s color scheme in emotional terms. A bank’s website done in shades of blue will inspire feelings of seriousness and trust in a US consumer, while the same colors will only feel dull to consumers in other regions.
Functional: Consumers look at a website’s color scheme in structural, organizational, and usability terms. Use of a regionally trendy color in navigational links may seem fresh and innovative in one culture and highly distracting (to the point of making the site seem unusable) in another.
Harmony: Consumers look at a website’s color scheme in terms of the balance between the colors. A dark color palette, such as black and grays, may seem sophisticated in one culture, while it can seem tired, dark, and depressing to another culture.
Appropriateness: Consumers look at a website’s color scheme in terms of appropriateness for the purpose. Again, US consumers feel “safe” with medium blue colors on institutional sites, such as banks, healthcare providers, or insurance companies. The light green and yellow pastels favored in Japan would seem inappropriate and not serious enough to the US consumer for these types of sites.
International marketers need to carefully consider color choices for their international or regional sites. Ideally, consumer research (with questions calibrated to determine reaction to the above five concepts) should be performed on potential mood boards before proceeding with a new design.
Cyr, D., Head, M., Larios, H. (2009). Color appeal in website design within and across cultures: a multi-method evaluation. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies. 68, pp. 1-21.