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I have been drafted in to provide UX feedback on a recently completed website. One point I made was that red was not a suitable colour for a positive action, i.e. completing a form. The reply cited this article

The reason why 2.0 kept pushing the red button – besides the fact that he likes to torture anyone over 3 feet – is that it was red and the other buttons are black. Red is a very good color for checkout and form buttons. In the reptilian brain, red signifies blood. Blood is good. It means you killed something and will get to eat dinner tonight along with your cave woman.

What is everyone's thought on this? My initial reaction is that it could cause confusion. Is red really a good colour for a positive action? Will it really increase conversions?

red button

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My initial thought is that evolutionary psychology is beyond the scope of UX testing. It neither explains user behaviour nor is a substitute for experimental results, it's just some gobbledegook tacked onto the results of the test in order to make the tester feel like things happen for explicable reasons :-) Also, reptiles don't have "cave women", it's not clear whether the psychology here is motivated 30k or 100M years ago. –  Steve Jessop Apr 1 at 8:47
    
Being charitable one can describe the author as "joking", not "explaining", since the real explanation in that test was that the user liked what the red button did and saw no need to explore others ;-) It doesn't really matter why red is good (if indeed it is) and anyway there's almost certainly an element of learned behaviour unrelated to cavefolk. Just A/B test it, assuming you have the means. I'm pretty sure I've seen examples cited where red won, and examples where users didn't respond differently to different colours. –  Steve Jessop Apr 1 at 8:57
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If all the buttons were grey except one green button, it would still stand out, however, may make users less cautious about clicking on it. –  Danny Varod Apr 2 at 8:05
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11 Answers 11

Since you have phrased your question 'Is it acceptable...', the answer is: Yes it is acceptable. A lot of things are sub-optimal and still acceptable. Depends on your standards :)

Is it the best possible choice of colors for this particular action? No, very likely not!

It does one thing and only one thing very good - stand out, however it also introduces a sense of urgency, danger and negative action/consequences mostly because of Western connotations of this color (energy, excitement, action, danger, a warning to stop, anger).

It can be successfully used for love, passion, Christmas gifts when combined with green and for Valentine's day designs, but this doesn't seem to be the case.

Also the story about the reptilian brain doesn't seem to fit well. Reptilian brain mostly kicks in life/death and stressful survival situations or for very primitive individuals who operate on this level of consciousness. Shopping online isn't one of those situations for most internet users when their reptilian brain takes over :)

I think that this color in this context creates a discrepancy and some users who are not 100% sure they want to book/buy might get too alerted and reconsider their purchase. If your product is good and people need it, they will buy it, but because of rational considerations. However, you might be losing a lot of impulse purchases because they will get alerted and might reconsider.

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Sometimes my reptilian brain takes over when online shopping. Don't rule it out. –  JFA Apr 2 at 6:30
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Check out Google Drive - they use red buttons. I don't think that red signals error as long as the theme and GUI parts of the page goes in red (and that is probably why Google uses those colors).

If there would have been a red and a green button, then I would have been suspicious about clicking the red, but in this case I don't get that feeling.

The screenshot is from a swedish version of Google Drive, the main button means "Create".

Google Drive

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I think in this case we have to take into consideration the branding colors of Google. The blue, red, green and yellow color and their default color scheme - black text on white background, with few shades of gray in-between depending on the importance of the feature. The blue and green colors are used as file icons for most used file types - documents and spreadsheets. Therefore, out of all 4 colors, the red one is a very good fit for this particular action. –  Harijs Deksnis Mar 31 at 12:31
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I constantly miss the Google red buttons in the top left because I've been trained to ignore red. I'd love to see some testing results on this color choice. –  Mark Sloan Mar 31 at 22:59
    
trained to ignore errors - I like those crazy ux outgrowths :D –  Gustav Apr 1 at 12:31
    
Note that the screenshot in the question does include a green-gray button, so the "suspicious" clause applies. –  Jan Hudec Apr 1 at 21:23
    
I would say this Google color is more of a burnt umber than red... –  Dmacatude Apr 2 at 12:46
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Color associations are very cultural thing. In computer culture I assume people usually don't think: oh blood, yammi. At least my experience is that red implies mostly one of the following:

  • Attention: whatever it is, it must be important
  • Error: As developers always wanted attention for errors, in the right context red is highly associated with errors.
  • Just a nice color: yes, red is also one of the primary colors, so not always something special about it. Several logos of stackexchange are based on a red color.

Red-colored buttons are not bad by itself, still I would use another color.

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Wait, do you mean that Google doesn't emphasize on the its first o and e in the logo? +1 for the "just a nice color" part. –  Arlaud Pierre Apr 1 at 9:19
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We are testing the exact same thing at the moment (hopefully I'll get back with the result when it'ts done). From our current experience and I've seen this on other sites, people tend do click the red button IF there is no other "actions".

You have 3 buttons very close to each other and personally I would not click the red button.

If it was Green I probably would click it. But the only way to know is to actually test. This is what we use at the moment https://www.optimizely.com/

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On web you need user's focus as much as possible and this can be achieved via images/color and typography etc.

Red is associated with eagerness, energy and attention. So when we see red(traffic light, blood, danger signs, waitress with red lipstick , red apple) we stop. And then take an action.

So as per your screen you want user to validate before he hit any button and red will certainly going to help. But I don't have any case study to attach, however, here is a lengthy pdf to read

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Basically, it will make almost any user stop and (at least) hesitate before clicking it. As others have said, you may lose impulse buyers, as they will have time to reconsider. I would try to find another bright color that doesn't signify danger. –  Phil Perry Mar 31 at 15:42
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First of all, that 'article' that you were sent supporting the notion that red is good is ridiculous. It is not even an article, it is some lady opining about her child's behavior. It's stupid and doesn't mean anything.

Moreover, the invocation of evolutionary biology is silly and incoherent. Who's blood are we seeing here? Maybe red is such a striking color in the reptilian brain because the reptile is bleeding?

As remarked above context is critical. Depending on background, red can be used to blend in. But in general, I support your judgment. Red is not a good color for GO.


EDIT

Thanks for the comment @Charles Wesley. You're right!

I meant what I said but this is more palatable and useful:

The attempt to make a relation between human reactions and colors is extremely questionable and fraught. See, for example, this article (which is actually an article):

http://www.academia.edu/590819/Colour_psychology_and_colour_therapy_Caveat_emptor_2011_

In light of the extreme difficulty of establishing robust scientific findings regarding human psychology, and the multivalent and continual presence of color information in the world, it is impossible to make any serious claim about color psychology based on the testimonial of someone observing his or her child. When that testimonial dresses itself in scientific language by making gestures towards exceedingly complicated theories that very serious people have devoted their lives to developing, that testimonial becomes worse than discardable, it becomes pseudoscientific.

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Hello! Welcome to UX.SE -- I think there is a good answer in here but the overall tone is a bit reactionary. Perhaps instead of saying the article is 'stupid' or 'silly', can you strengthen your argument by showing some research that contradicts the article's claims? Answers supported by research and sound argument are the most helpful. Thanks! –  Charles Wesley Apr 1 at 14:25
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It depends entirely on the page, site, situation. What works for company A may not work for company B. My suggestion is to use A/B testers, like Google's Experiments https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1745147?hl=en

With A/B testing, you can measure your visitors reactions to different versions of your page (you can change elements in the page, layout, sizes, etc). There are free and paid solutions out there. Google's is just one example.

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I feel like the issue is not so much "is a red button ok", but that in that image you specifically have a white button, a light blue button, and a bright red button. Red by itself could mean a lot of different things, but the contrast between the two calm looking buttons and the red one seems to imply something special about the red one.

A red button is probably ok if all of the buttons are red, but if buttons are white and light blue, a red button feels like the redness means something specific, though in the image it's hard to determine what that might be.

If in the program there is a common association between button color and action, and the user can come to understand that, for example, white buttons cancel, red buttons accept, and blue buttons edit, (or whatever), then it would probably be ok, but in the example image, it seems as if the colors have been chosen arbitrarily.

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Colour psychology and marketing is a specialist subject. If your designer has a good understanding of this subject, challenging them over the colour they've chosen is probably not the smartest approach. However, I'm not certain they have, given the context. The choice is certainly not the one I'd make in this situation. In European & North American cultures, red is sometimes used as a call-to-action for purchasing, but primarily in markets where impulse purchases are dominant. Given the high value of the items shown in your example basket, I would suggest the colours instead should be chosen to inspire either confidence (typically blue) or luxury (black is commonly used for luxury items).

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It's not, unless red is already used as a confirmation/submit action consistently throughout your site and in this workflow.

Google, to talk about the example Henrik Ekblom uses, has red like this because it's used consistently throughout the UI. It's a part of their overall user interface patterns on products like Gmail. This is a case where red would be make sense to the user. Otherwise, taken out of context, red is normally a color associated with destructive/negative actions like deleting, canceling, clearing, etc.

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We've done copius amounts of testing across various sites and markets and in all cases red buttons out perform other colours.

My thinking is that, although we are inherently programed to react to red, our reactions work to draw our attention. The conversion is then far easier to achieve.

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