It’s a small sample size, of course — there are, as of this writing, an estimated 4.7 billion pages on the Internet — but it was enough to prompt Wired to name blue the web’s “most popular color,” and it’s validated an age-old design observation. Everything on the Internet is blue. Blue homepages, blue windows. Blue is the color of Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Microsoft, whitehouse.gov, WordPress and Pandora … among others.
But … why? How did we get the blue regime that Hebert’s actually quantified, and many others have observed? It’s not like there’s some centralized Web design authority dictating these things. Anecdotally, Mark Zuckerberg has said Facebook is blue because he’s red-green colorblind, and Google has said the color clicked best in rigorous A/B tests.
But the underlying reason may be that design, like art, imitates life — and in life, we like the color blue best.
There’s lots of evidence to suggest this — enough evidence to make you wonder why the adventurous designers at Yelp, Instagram and Snapchat ever messed with anything else. Repeat global surveys have found that blue is the most-preferred color among both men and women, more or less regardless of country. In labs and A/B tests alike, subjects associate the color with trustworthiness and dependability — which, may explain why blue is a fixture in many website’s “log-in” and “buy” buttons.
In one 2011 study, researchers at Loyola University Chicago and the University of Massachusetts Amherst had 279 students look at the logos for a fictional company — each of them identical except for color — and then evaluate their perceptions of that firm. The white-logoed company was seen as sincere. The red one? Tied to excitement. The blue company was, far and away, seen as the most competent.
Why we have these particular associations is, of course, a bit more complicated — and also a matter of some speculation. While there’s doubtlessly a cultural component (something Hebert plans to explore in the future), some scientists also believe in a “natural, universal preference for blue” that could be explained by cave men and foraging and the evolution of the eye’s color-receptors.
Whatever the precise explanations, blue is now so ubiquitous online that it’s arguably become difficult to push back against it — even the Internet’s “new,” trending colors tend to be versions and shades of it. Designers of new websites look around for inspiration, and inevitably encounter endless seas of blue. The color reinforces and replicates itself — it’s too late now for a web of purple or gray or chartreuse.
Personally, I’m not complaining: Blue is easy on the eyes. But how weird is it that the web design’s most trenchant prophet was the Italian europop band Eiffel 65?
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