I have a client asking me to change the navigation colour scheme on a website design im doing to match the individual products.

Personally I think its:

  1. a bad idea
  2. it wont work with their overarching brand
  3. it is confusing
  4. just a bad experience.

They have seen the Barbican website which they really like and wish to replicate the navigation colour style here utilising the branded products.


This brand, for the sake of this being public lets call it 'X'.

The site is relatively small and X are only selling 7 products right now and the range will likely grow at a very slow rate, each product is branded with a different colour scheme to distinguish it from the rest. This is something I can not change. They also want this to be AA accessible too.


Are there any studies or research that can back up the suggestion as to why this is a bad idea? Or have any advice that I maybe missing here that I can back up my rationale with.

  • This is why i ask for any research, studies or advice out there that maybe existing because they are not enough to go back to a client with. A/B testing maybe a route to suggest. – UIO May 16 at 9:51
  • Color + usability would be concerned about ... contrast, readability, color blindness, etc. Just not liking the colors? Don't think that's a usability issue. Look at Windows XP. Despite the horrible color scheme, people liked the interface enough to stick with it for over a decade. – 習約塔 May 16 at 9:53
  • The barbican site is slow on my computer (guessing heavy scripting and image loading). That could be a usability concern. I won't stay on the site long enough to figure out what it is, let alone buy any product it might be selling. If this potential issue doesn't concern your client, I doubt there's anything that would. – 習約塔 May 16 at 10:09

This spans branding, usability and accessibility. The Barbican site uses colour to group content that appears outside its primary categories, although importantly doesn't rely only on colour to convey meaning.

Another important consideration on their site is that the non-interactive page elements within each section are all in greyscale, with colour largely being used to show interactivity or identify labels linking to another sections (see screenshot). Whilst this introduces issues around consistency and pattern recognition between screens, it does make it relatively easy to identify interactive features within a single page.

enter image description here

Many sites successfully use colour to differentiate between topics or sections (e.g. The Guardian) but this is most beneficial where those topics are sometimes mixed within a single feed. It also works best when users are expected to frequently return to that site and begin associating colours with their desired meaning.

I think some of the potential issues you identify are valid, but would suggest exploring what could make this work to begin with, rather than just looking for research to support it not working. That's what user testing is for :)


This seems to be more a branding issue than it is a usability issue. Usability would be concerned about issues such as readability and color blindness. As long as the color choices are sane, if navigation links and function stay the same, usability shouldn't be significantly affected.

Nothing about the changing colors on the website you reference makes it "confusing" or difficult to use. However, it is slow. I won't stay on the site long enough to figure out what it is, let alone buy any product it might be selling. Rotating colors also makes establishing brand recognition difficult to impossible (unless the logo is a rainbow). If the client is aware and willing, it's pretty much their prerogative.

Changing the color scheme could work, depending on how it is implemented. Some possibilities:

  • The main color of the site could be the same (according to the main brand), but accent colors are changed (according to the specific product).

  • There might be a main banner that is kept consistent, while the scheme of the rest of the page is changed.

Consider visiting your client with colored pencils and a stack of wireframe drawings of webpages. Have them color in the the pages to demonstrate exactly what they are talking about. What they want may not be as bad as you imagine.

If you still have usability concerns, consider A/B testing.

  • Your second bullet point is currently what the design does, however they want the Barbican style header colour function as well. – UIO May 16 at 9:35

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