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Have you ever searched on a website and been frustrated that you couldn’t find the right shade of those teal curtains? Well, if you’ve been online in recent years you’ll have noticed a new way to search on websites: searching by color. Searching by color is a phenomenon taking over the digital landscape. It’s hot. It’s specific (I want to buy that short-sleeve polo in Pantone color 319 uncoated!), and it’s here to stay (for now). Maybe the people of Pantone (which ironically has a very sterile color search on their website) have finally convinced the world that there is more to color than Mr. Roy G Biv.

Color searching across the internet
Four examples of color searching across the web

This method of allowing the user to search and filter by color has been adopted by Google, Etsy, Flickr (well, not directly),, and pretty much every e-commerce store that has an online presence. The Smithsonian’s design museum, the Cooper-Hewitt, has joined the club by allowing the user to browse its digitized collection by color. Even when it’s not blatantly stated as “color shopping” (Did I just make that phrase up?), it’s there. Just take a look at this mailer I got from Fab yesterday.

Even Apple is jumping on the color band-wagon. With the latest software release (10.9) of the Mac operating system comes an update to the color labels in finder. As says, “The oft-ignored color labels for files have been rebranded as tags, allowing users to view all files or documents within an assigned category. There are six tag colors, and users can write their own labels — with text or emoji.” I agree that color tags have a long way to go before I will consider reorganizing all of my files around them, but in the meantime, this is a nod to the importance color can play in information design.

Color is a lens through which people view yourself, your company and what you’re “selling”

I’m geekin’ out – color fun!

Looking for inspiration? Designspiration, one of my personal favorites, has a lovely multi-color search function.

Designspiration color search
Multi color search on Designspiration

Color Palette-ing made easy

Consumers can not only shop and search by color now, they can create and share their own color palettes. Get in on the color fun at sites such as ColorLovers, Adobe’s Kuler, and Color Scheme Designer.

Test your eye

There’s even color game websites where you can test your visual accuracy, match a color, and even play the ol’ childhood favorite Mastermind. Beware: these games are not for the faint of eye.

Why should you care?

While I could wax eloquent about the intricacies of color theory, I’ll get down to brass tacks. Color matters, and it plays a strong part in your brand – this is true even if you don’t have an e-commerce site. It is a lens through which people view yourself, your company and what you’re “selling” (be that marketing advice, building wells in Africa, or squirrel suspenders). I’m not saying that you have to immediately go and redesign your website giving users the power to change your website’s colors (there are browser plugin-ins for that). I don’t even think that is a wise idea. What I am saying is that color is relevantkool and it is in the everyday fabric of our lives. People are paying attention to color now more than ever – so you should too.

Reach out

Have you seen any websites that use color searching in a unique way? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below. Do you think your website could benefit by adding color searching functionality? Shoot us an email and tell us about it! In the meantime, read our related article about color use in social media buttons and why it’s a good idea to downplay them.

Hannah Hudson
With a passion for communicating through design and an OCD level of pixel-perfection, Hannah continually seeks to refine the poetry of her code.