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Colour Logic and Web Site Design

A web site is unlike any pre-existing visual form of communication. It is an interactive space through which the user navigates. The user's choices determine what is seen and how long it is seen. .A web page typically does not exist in its entirely on a monitor screen. Monitor sizes and resolution, gamma differences, font sizes and user options are all contributing at the same time to the instability of any given web page. Consequently the web designer is challenges to deliver a visual product for an extremely wide range of variables. An understanding of how colour creates logical and engaging visual effects is essential to successful design for this flexible environment.

A palette of 216 colours might have daunted any artist, but it is the defining scheme for most of today's World Wide Web sites. Some designers rebel against this limitation, but the practical world intrudes.

If you want some sense that your work will appear similarly on many different machines, you must choose a small set of colours, typically from the so-called web-safe palette. Choosing more than 216 colours, or going nuts and using 24-bit colour (millions of colours), means that the majority of users will see dithered, pixelated, corrupted renditions of your original intent. For certain users, you can rely on deep colour and ignore these limitations. A software company selling three-dimensional animation software deals mostly with folks who have more than the average eight bits of colours (256 colours). Similarly, a site that presents art might attract surfers, but can not make a Starry Night out of ten colours.

The challenge for all designers is to make each colour count. Whether you are drawing from a deep pool or a paint-by-numbers scheme. Some web sites have made design choices that allow them to work within the constraints they have put upon themselves, rather than working outside the frame and allowing web browser software to interpret colours in whichever way it see fit.

Some web sites choose to push the saturation envelope, taking advantage of the fact that bright colours can fight each other on screen with often surprising results. They borrow from video games, silk-screened posters, television cartoons, and laser light shows. Some others find great interest in using tiny differences.

It is clear that the best web sites educate their visitors by giving them a message spelled out in hue and tonality: without even reading the words, we know where we have landed. And unlike a finely-dappled Seurat painting, we don't have to take several steps back in order to get the full picture. Colour is multi-dimensional. Intangible as it is, it affects everything around it and even turns on itself and mutates in endless ways.