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I had posted a question earlier asking for views on what would be the ideal background color to enhance readability and had indicated my inclination towards having a dark or a greyish background to make the transition easier. One of the answers made a very interesting point:

The subject matter of the site has a tendency to be potentially depressing - it's important to try to counteract this tendency through aesthetic choices.

Note: The site is about Cancer, so it can be depressing.

So the question here should the color scheme be also determined by the general mood of the content of the site. I would assume the answer is yes but how much should we be concerned about that.

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

When it comes to mood, you can't isolate color from shape and texture. The perception of color hinges on its context. I would suggest that a site about cancer should invoke calm and trust. So create a calming and trusting environment and the colors will follow from there.

I seriously doubt that Van Gogh first started picking colors before painting a landscape. He just painted a landscape and the colors followed from there.

This way you're also less likely to create any confusion between practical and aesthetical use of color. The aesthetical use of color should be so natural and obvious that it won't be confused with practical use.

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Personally, I would argue that the color scheme should appeal to the audience emotionally. While the subject matter may be depressing, people visiting the site most likely want to feel good and hopeful. To enhance user experience and help users enjoy using your site, I would appeal to their desired mood. So, I would use brighter colors.

A good example of this in action is the way hospitals decorate, and the way hospital nursing staff members dress. While most people making repeat visits to a hospital for health problems are unlikely to be feeling upbeat about it, hospitals are usually brightly lit and filled with upbeat colors to lift the moods of patients and appeal to their hope. I would use the same approach for website about illness.

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Of course the appearance of hospitals is now associated with unease or even fright with most people; something the colors don't easily overcome. –  Ben Brocka Feb 1 '12 at 14:41
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This isn't common practice. On most forums and bulletin board interfaces, colour suggests something about the status of the post or thread. Greys, italics and dark backgrounds usually suggest content is locked or disabled somehow. Trying to communicate mood with colour could run afoul of these conventions.

In communities dedicated to mental health issues, the typical habit is to proceed topic titles with a 'warning: trigger' message and / or caution icon, especially in contexts where posters might refer to self-harm or traumatic experiences.

Really, it depends on the nature of your content. But colour will typically suggest something about the attributes of the content and its metadata (eg whether it's an old thread, a hot topic, etc.) rather than its tenor and mood.

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Colour can be used practically (to highlight content, or create consistency), but it can also be used to create emotional appeal through aesthetically led decisions. You've really only covered the first case. –  codeinthehole Jan 30 '12 at 19:17
    
The problem is that the latter is easily confused for the former. That's what I'm getting at in the first paragraph of my answer. –  Jimmy Breck-McKye Jan 30 '12 at 20:27
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