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I'm currently in the process of building an e-commerce platform, and I'm looking for some insights on a design aspect. Our platform encompasses various sections such as customers, company, billing, products, blog posts, documentation, and more. To enhance user experience and streamline navigation, we're considering assigning a unique color to each of these entities and integrating these colors throughout the website wherever the respective entity is referenced. These will be 10 other colors in addition to the branding colours we have.

I am wondering if anyone here has used vast colour palettes in a product and later regretted the decision. What kind of problems did you guys run into?

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The problem is not the number of colors to use, but how these colors are implemented.

In other words, if in addition to the corporate colors you try to create a color identification system for the sections of an e-commerce, you should have an excellent graphic designer to do it. If not, I would recommend you don't even dare to do it.

Some points to consider and examples.

Firstly, e-commerce is not a website, but rather a piece with its own elements that can make it difficult to make decisions regarding the design. Among these elements are the purchase button (shopping cart), the variations of each product such as sizes, colors, quantities, etc., payment methods, items on sale... If each of these elements already has a defined color, these can never compete with the color of the section, so the job of choosing colors becomes difficult.


It's important to know that in design, color is a compositive element that is part of the design along with typography, images, illustrations, text, titles, backgrounds, and shapes. If we give color an identity of ten variations, these must be added to the possible relationships with each compositive element. For example, if in typography we have titles, subtitles, highlights, texts, epigraphs, photo captions, etc. each of these must have a defined and clear relationship with each of the ten colors.


As a comparative example, in 2010, the Carrefour supermarket chain launched its new branding based on section colors with a large number of colors and gradients:

carrefour branding

Exaggerated in my opinion, the implementation makes the work very difficult. Currently, the Carrefour branding not only eliminated but prohibits any color change beyond the two corporate ones, white, black and a few exceptions:

Carrefour

In the company's online store, with more than fifty sections, it would be impossible to identify each of them by color, making this a superfluous decorative element.


If you use ten colors for each section, I would recommend having a base color as a common denominator in some key element, be it a background or graphics. For example, The Guardian uses colors for each section, but these are subject to the corporate color:

The Guardian


Sometimes color is used as a patch to cover design deficiencies. I would recommend designing the online store with very basic colors, and defining clear tags for each use of color in each section:

.section_xx .element {background-color:#000000;}.

Once the monochrome design has been defined at 70% with all the options very clear, try to apply the specific color to the corresponding label of each section by changing the {background-color:#000000;}.

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  • Thank you very much for the very comprehensive explanation and advice. I think starting with the monochromatic design sounds like a good starting point. Very much appreciated!
    – ramesh
    Feb 28 at 11:41
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    +1 Very comprehensive explanation indeed!
    – Michael Lai
    Mar 4 at 23:18
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    @ramesh consider accepting the answer by Danielillo if you found it has helped answer your question.
    – Michael Lai
    Mar 4 at 23:19
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There are lots of reasons why most brand guidelines keep their colour palette to a small set (at least when it comes to primary colours). It is quite unusual to see colours take up a large proportion of UI component real estate, because in general you need to make sure that they can serve the purpose of highlighting or sign-positing by keeping its use to a minimum. Once you have too many colours, it becomes more difficult to remember and distinguish them easily.

Here are some other reasons why you may end up regretting the decision:

  • increase in difficulty of creating an accessible palette with high enough contrast in colour combinations
  • increase in difficulty of choosing right colours to use when there are overlapping or conflicting use cases
  • nearly impossible task of reconciling colour usage if you ever decide to change or update your brand colours
  • increase in difficulty of creating and managing secondary colour palettes required to support primary colours used

There are definitely other strategies you can consider to label entities in an e-commerce platform in combination with colours. The most obvious one is to use icons or shapes. In any case, you should not rely on just one visual element to distinguish between important entities.

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I wouldn't use different colors for different taxonomies. However, I think it's acceptable to use different colors within the same items of a given taxonomy, particularly posts or products.

We implemented this approach years ago for a well-known scientific magazine, where each category had its own color in the menu, and all items within that category adopted this color. Additionally, when a category was mentioned elsewhere on the website, its designated color would accompany the reference.

For example, if the category was Botany and its color was green, then in a post about zoology, the word "botany" would have a green background and be linked to the category. Similarly, if the reference was to a post, the post's name would feature the background color of its category.

A notable example that utilized a similar approach (without the cross-referencing) for years was Wired, although it now adopts an ultra-minimalistic approach.

Your Specific Case

As mentioned, applying this strategy within elements of the same taxonomy is acceptable. However, employing it across different taxonomies, such as those you've mentioned (customers, company, billing, products, blog posts, documentation), isn't a good idea.

There's a lack of a common frame of reference, and it's unlikely that users will grasp the concept (pending user testing, this remains a hypothesis). In my view, it would unnecessarily increase cognitive load without offering clear benefits.

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