How the blue color palette became the internet's default
You may have never noticed it, the blue color palette is the internet's favorite color. But does that mean it's the right choice for your branding?
22 November 2019 · 8 min read
You may have never noticed it, the internet is covered in blue. It’s used more than twice as often as red in the internet’s most popular websites and is the default color for elements like hyperlinks.
Despite how popular blue is on the World Wide Web, though, no one knows for sure how it came to be that way. There are a few popular theories, though, that are worth diving into.
Why is blue the internet’s favorite color?
The inventor of the internet chose blue color palette
The first and most intriguing theory is that the inventor of the internet himself may have chosen blue early on. That man, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, proposed the early concept for the internet back in 1989 and created the first prototype for the internet later that year.
In photos of Tim’s work on the early internet, you can see that he was already using blue as the color for hyperlinks, which is now the default color for links around the web. This makes a pretty strong case that he played a big part in blue becoming the internet’s default.
The strange part, though, is that Tim has no recollection of choosing blue. In fact, when he was first creating the internet, his computer had a greyscale display - so the color of hyperlinks never even occurred to him. Still, he may have unintentionally launched blue into the spotlight.
It’s Facebook’s favorite color
Though you see blue being used across some of the most popular social media sites (like Twitter and LinkedIn), Facebook is the company most known for its blue color palette. And though it may seem arbitrary, blue became Facebook’s color by design.
Mark Zuckerberg, the infamous creator of Facebook, is red-green colorblind, a condition that affects 10% of the population. This means that out of all of the colors, blue is the one that is the most visible to him.
With Facebook being the 7th most popular website in the world, third most popular in the U.S., and the most popular social media website in the world, it’s clear that it plays a big part in the culture of the internet. Although there’s no concrete proof that Facebook is the reason blue is so popular, it may be a contributing factor.
Blue color palettes complement the “emergent orange”
Another interesting (and difficult to prove) theory is that blue’s popularity is the byproduct of another color’s popularity - emergent orange.
In a 2005 experiment by Jim Bumgardner, he found that when you average together images across the internet, the resulting color is orange. He conducted this study across different internet groups and collected the data in several ways, all resulting in the same pale, orange-ish bronze.
What does this have to do with blue?
If you look at a color wheel, you’ll see that orange is blue’s direct complement, meaning that the two go perfectly with one another. Though it’s probably not intentional, web designers may have subconsciously favored blue because of this phenomenon.
Blue is our favorite color
The last theory is the least exciting, and by Occam’s Razor, probably the most accurate. People love blue! It’s the most popular favorite color in the world by a large margin and one of the only colors that’s equally popular between both genders.
Now, as to why people love blue so much, that’s another story altogether. It could be that it’s the planet’s favorite color too. We’re encased in a lovely blue atmosphere, sitting on continents surrounding by deep blue oceans.
Blue is also the color of trust and familiarity, making it a safe and inviting color no matter who you are. It’s professional and simple, without coming across as stiff or boring.
Whatever the reasoning behind blue’s dominance on the internet, there’s no denying its popularity.
Should you choose blue for your website?
Now that can’t stop seeing blue everywhere you look, you’re probably wondering if you should be using blue more often in your online efforts, especially if you’re trying to build a brand. It makes sense - if the most popular websites in the world are using blue, shouldn’t you be using it too?
Maybe, but not necessarily.
The way you use color in the design of your website (and in general) is a core component of your branding design. It’s representative of the voice you’re trying to put out into the world. Maybe blue is that voice, but maybe it isn’t.
It may seem counterintuitive, but the popularity of blue may be a reason not to use it. Many brands that used blue in their past branding are now moving away from it precisely because it’s so popular. Making blue your default could easily backfire, leaving you lost in a sea of- you get the idea.
The psychology of color
When thinking about the different colors for your brand, it’s important to first understand the psychology behind each color. Different colors evoke different emotions in your audience. Picking the right color will help you achieve your desired response.
Blue: The color of trust
At its core, blue is the color of trust. People attribute emotions like loyalty, authority, peace of mind, and security to the color blue. As a result, it’s popular among financial institutions like Chase, Charles Schwab, Citibank, and Bank of America. Blue is also popular across genders and generations.
What blue isn’t very good at is getting people’s appetites going. Blue is thought to reduce people’s appetites, which is why it isn’t used in food packaging or restaurants very often.
Yellow: The color of optimism
Yellow is one of the least popular favorite colors (just above orange) but in branding, it’s a very powerful color. It signifies warmth, friendliness, and positivity, and works great for catching attention (which is why it’s used at stoplights and on taxis).
The drawback of yellow is that because it’s perceived as a “fun” color, it doesn’t work well in serious contexts. That’s why you don’t see many high-end brands adopting this sunny color.
Red: The color of youth
Violence and passion, energy and romance - red is an intense color. And it’s because of this intensity that it plays particularly well to younger audiences. Similar to yellow, red draws people’s attention, which is why you see it paired with the words “SALE” and “CLEARANCE” so often.
Red is also great for engaging people’s appetites, which is why it’s so popular among restaurants and food packaging. Red isn’t a relaxing color, though, so avoid it if you’re marketing to older generations.
Black: The color of professionalism
It comes as no surprise that black is the black dress of branding. It’s simple, to the point, and professional. If you’re going for a formal, elegant look, black can give your branding a sleek edge. Because it comes across as so serious, black typically doesn’t work as well when you’re trying to get people excited or motivated. You can pair black with another color, like red or yellow, to combine excitement with professionalism.
Green: The color of growth
Like blue, green is something most of us see every day. It’s in our fields and forests, making it the color of choice for anything nature-related. People tend to associate green with growth, change, harmony, and freshness.
When green is shown in darker shades, it tends to relate more to money, which is why it’s popular among budgeting services and apps. Lighter greens tend to have a more positive connotation, making them a go-to for eco-friendly companies and initiatives.
Purple: The color of creativity Though it used to be the color of royalty, today, purple is more commonly associated with creativity and fantasy. Unlike green, blue, and yellow, purple is a somewhat rare color in nature, hence its luxury status.
Purple is a great color to use with creative companies (it’s why we use it here at B12!).
How to pick the right color palette for your brand
Step 1: Look for inspiration
Step one in finding the right color palette for your brand is looking for inspiration. Look at other companies in your industry, as well as businesses that have color palettes you like in general. Start gathering images of the different colors and combinations that speak to you.
If after learning about the psychology behind colors you have an idea of the kinds of colors you want to use, look for color palettes that consist of these colors. The main goal here is to gather as many different combinations of the colors you like as possible.
Step 2: Choose your brand’s color palette
Now that you have a bunch of colors to choose from, it’s time to curate those colors into your brand’s color palette. Your palette should consist of about six colors, though a few less is fine (more than six colors isn’t recommended).
Here are the basic color palettes that you can structure your colors around.
A monochromatic palette is one that consists of different shades and tones of the same color. Ally is a great example of a company with a monochrome color palette.
Monochromatic palettes are great for creating a strong association between your brand and a specific color. They can make contrasting your branding difficult, however, so consider carefully before picking this type of palette.
For analogous color palettes, you’re probably going to need to pull out a color wheel. These are color palettes that use colors that fall side by side on the color wheel. McDonald’s uses one of the most popular analogous color palettes there is.
Because all of the colors in an analogous palette are related, they inspire a relaxing vibe in onlookers. Don’t be afraid to throw in a complementary color to help bring excitement to certain areas of your branding.
Speaking of complementary colors, these are easily the most popular style of palettes. Looking at our color wheel again, complementary palettes are color combinations that are opposite each other on the color wheel, like blue and orange or green and red. Firefox makes great use of complementary colors.
Complementary colors are a good choice for brands that aren’t sure which direction to go in. They’re interesting, balanced, provide natural contrast, and are tough to get wrong.
Step 3: Choose your primary and secondary colors
Finally, now that you have your color palette on paper, it’s time to start deciding which colors are going to be front and center and which are going to be playing support. Your primary color(s) are going to be the ones that represent your brand, while the secondary colors help bring contrast and excitement to your branding.
You should pick just one or two primary colors and support them with four or five secondary colors. You don’t need to have exactly six colors - you could get away with having just one if you wanted. It all depends on the kind of brand you’re trying to put forward.
There’s a big world out there - and it’s not just blue
Just because blue is the internet’s favorite color doesn’t mean it has to be yours. Picking your brand’s colors should go beyond popularity. Dive into your brand’s personality and see what colors lie within.
For more articles over branding and web design, check out the rest of our blog right here at B12!