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An Empirical Investigation of Color Temperature and Gender Effects on Web Aesthetics

Constantinos K. Coursaris, Sarah J. Sweirenga, and Ethan Watrall

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 3, Issue 3, May 2008, pp. 103-117

Article Contents


Hedonic, derived from Greek where hedonism means pleasure, dimensions include factors such as color, graphics, animation, and other design elements that either implicitly or explicitly cause an affective state of pleasure. Zhang and Li (2005) argue that the more pleasing or attractive a Web site is, the easier it will be for the individual to learn how to use it and the more likely that this individual will continue to use it. Past studies have primarily looked at Web site design as the aggregate product of these hedonic dimensions and the users' consequent affect. However, a closer look at the impact of each hedonic dimension on affect is warranted.

Empirical studies on the impact of color on the perceived attractiveness and usability of Web sites are extremely limited. Kim et al. (2003) reference Liu (2001) in their claim that "prior studies did not identify any quantitative relations between the design factors emotional dimensions." Most studies focus on the role that aesthetics play in usability and treat color in an overly subjective and qualitative manner (Brady & Philips, 2003; Dittmar, 2001; Kim et. al, 2003; Papachristos et al., 2005). However, based on the limited number of empirical studies on the subject, it appears that color (and more specifically color combinations) has a significant effect on the perceived attractiveness and aesthetic appeal of a Web site. Brady and Philips (2003) suggest that users found a site with a triadic color scheme more usable and more aesthetically pleasing than a site with a non-standard color scheme (note: a review of the color scheme used by Brady and Philips suggests their design to be split-complementary instead of triadic; however, both are proximal techniques in combining colors). Their study was limited by its design in that it did not differentiate between color properties (e.g., hue, saturation, and temperature) and their respective effects on users' perceptions of usability and attractiveness. Papachristos et al. (2005) suggest that color combinations and schemes resonate with users in a particularly emotional manner. Their research shows that users tend to predictably attach specific emotional descriptors, such as fresh, modern, friendly, and aggressive, to specific color schemes and color combinations. Results of their research further suggest that the design attribute with the strongest effect on the Web site's perceived attractiveness is the brightness of the dominant color, followed by the brightness of the secondary color and its temperature (warm or cool), the number of colors, and the contrast between hues. As a rough point of reference to color theory, warm colors include those that fall in the spectrum between red and yellow (with orange as the secondary by-product), whereas cool colors encompass those that center around blue (with green and purple as the secondary by-products) (Ohta & Robertson, 2006).

Based on the limited past empirical research, it is plausible to suggest that color, color schemes, and color combinations are variables dependant on other areas of design such as balance and contrast. It is also possible to suggest, based on the work by Papachristos et al., where cooler colors were found to be preferred over warmer colors, that the perceived temperature of a color impacts a Web site's aesthetics. Thus, the following hypotheses are proposed for this study:

H2. Increasing the color temperature of a Web site design will negatively impact users' perceptions of its classical aesthetics.

H3. Increasing the color temperature of a Web site design will negatively impact users' perceptions of its expressive aesthetics.

Figure 1. Proposed research model of color temperature effects on perceptions of Web aesthetics

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