Color usage

Color helps express hierarchy, establish brand presence, give meaning, and indicate element states.


Hierarchy

In Material Design, color draws attention to specific elements on-screen. When an element’s color contrasts with its surroundings, that element stands out, so users can tell it’s important. Because color themes vary – from bold and bright, to monochromatic or muted – there are different ways to indicate which elements have greater importance.

For example, black icons stand out when they are placed against a white background. Multicolored cards draw attention to themselves when placed next to monochromatic colors.

Surface contrast

To bring attention to important events, use stronger color contrasts between elements.

The purple background has a high contrast with the white surface, bringing emphasis to the list item choices – the main point of this travel app.

Color and shape

Visual emphasis is given to an element that changes both color and shape at the same time. Use this kind of emphasis to indicate something has been selected or requires immediate attention.

The chips with curved, pink left corners indicate they have been selected by the user.

Limiting color

By limiting the use of color in your app, the areas that do receive color gain more attention, such as text, images, and individual elements...

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By limiting the use of color in your app, the areas that do receive color gain more attention, such as text, images, and individual elements like buttons.

Because the content of this product is multicolored, a black floating action button contrasts greatly with the bright colors, making it more visible.

A grayscale color palette is best for allowing photography and text to stand out.


Brand


Your brand can use color to emphasize its presence. Brand colors can be used in key moments, in ways that associate those colors with specific actions and information.

Brand color application can be bold and brash, subtle and sophisticated, or anywhere in between. Your brand’s personal approach to color should be reflected in your app.

Bold use of color

Brands that wish to convey a sense of energy and excitement often use color in bold ways. Their apps should reflect that same approach, while...

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Brands that wish to convey a sense of energy and excitement often use color in bold ways. Their apps should reflect that same approach, while preserving content legibility and overall usability.

This educational app uses bold, saturated brand colors (yellow, blue, magenta) in a vibrant way that matches the spirit of the brand.

This cooking app’s bold approach to color and typography infuses energy and excitement while remaining legible and usable.

Even brands with more subtle color approaches can use color in bold, celebratory ways.

Launch screens

Launch screens can be celebratory moments that use color in bold ways.

Onboarding

Color used during onboarding can connect content to branding.

Feature discovery

New features can be highlighted to ensure the user sees them by using color to guide user focus.

Subtle use of color

Brands can use color in subtle ways, whether that means conveying sophistication, emphasizing content, or suiting content in some other way. When using color with...

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Brands can use color in subtle ways, whether that means conveying sophistication, emphasizing content, or suiting content in some other way. When using color with subtlety, ensure that interactive areas and state changes remain identifiable and easily seen.

App screen with grey background, dense data in white, and small green bars as highlights

This financial app uses small amounts of color to display information, such as data in graphs. Using color in this way connects information to brand colors.

App screen that is primarily white with some black text and a single but noticeable purple underline of one piece of text

This news app uses its secondary color (purple) sparingly. By doing so, it stands out in the places it is used. Using color in this way makes content the most important element on the page.

Brand presence can be maintained subtly by incorporating brand colors into moments like loading a placeholder UI, showing progress indicators, or expressing state changes.

Placeholder UI

A placeholder UI is displayed while screen content loads. Including a brand color here assures users that they are still in the app as it loads.

Progress indicators

Progress indicators are a subtle but powerful place to incorporate brand color, as they tie the function of the app to the brand.

App screen with progress bar in purple that matches topp app bar in matching brand purple shade

State changes

State changes can subtly reinforce brand presence.

List items with one checkbox row selected and a purple overlay to highlight the state change

Meaning

Color can communicate the meaning of different UI elements. For example, a weather app may display colors indicating current weather conditions, and a navigation app may display color showing traffic conditions, with roads colored red or green

Various cards for different cities showing local weather. Sunny cities are yellow; rainy city cards are shades of blue and grey

This weather app pairs color with weather conditions.

A route on a map is traced in red and then the line continues in green to show differences in traffic

A navigation app uses color to signal traffic conditions.

Consistency and context

Color should be used consistently in a product, so that certain colors always mean the same thing, even if the context changes. Attention should also...

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Color should be used consistently in a product, so that certain colors always mean the same thing, even if the context changes. Attention should also be given to colors with local or cultural significance. For example, alerts may typically be colored red in some cultures, but not in others.

A date picker showing a range of selected dates on a month calendar

Date selection is shown in red against a purple background, associating the brand’s primary color (red) with choosing travel dates.

An alert in an app in red

Don’t.

Since red is a brand color, don’t also use it to convey an error state.

An alert in an app in yellow

Do.

Choose alternative alert colors that don’t use brand coloring.


State


Color can provide information about the state of an app, its components, and elements. This includes:

  • Current state of an element or component, such as whether a button is enabled or disabled
  • Changes in state to an app, component, or element

Color should be noticeable when indicating state changes, as subtle differences in color may be missed. It’s best to indicate a change of state in more than one way, such as by displaying an icon or moving the location of an element.

Indicating interaction

To emphasize a specific interaction, use strong color contrasts on content that a user has interacted with, relative to content a user hasn’t. This image...

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To emphasize a specific interaction, use strong color contrasts on content that a user has interacted with, relative to content a user hasn’t.

A pink circle on a black and white area of text is noticeably contrasted

This image has a color treatment that indicates the user is interacting with it.


Indicating selection

To emphasize selected elements, use strong color contrasts on those elements. The emails in this list use brand colors to indicate those which are selected,...

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To emphasize selected elements, use strong color contrasts on those elements.

A list of items in an app with contrasting yellow details on the corner of each item

The emails in this list use brand colors to indicate those which are selected, using a colored corner shape.