Gray is the most conservative of neutral shades, and represents practicality, sadness, security and reliability. It is a boring color, routine and lifeless. Its often hard to believe that gray backgrounds were all that web developers had to work with once! Unless you WANT to convey lackluster or conservatism in your site, you would do better to choose another neutral tone like beige or white as a background. Of course, if gray is used properly in a palette of cool tones like blues and purples, it can be quite successful, however staid.
Lavender is another color which most people have a strong feeling towards. It is a pastel, properly used to generate feelings of romance, nostalgia and daintiness, and it is also a favorite color for the creative, different and unusual. If your intent is to stand out and be noticed, lavender might be just the choice, depending on what your site is for. It works nicely with other pastels, for a feminine feel, as well as other cool tones like blue, green and even as a highlight for neutral gray.
No matter how evolved we would like to be, pink, like lavender, is considered a frilly, tender, feminine color. It can be used with care on sites for which that feeling is appropriate.
The grandfather of lavender, purple is the color of mystery, royalty and spirituality. For the unconventional and creative, it is not only a good choice, but often the only choice! When used in a background, as with black, be sure to use a highly contrasting color for content so that your words are readable.
Orange is a warm color - enthused, vibrant and expansive. If you want to be flamboyant and get attention, use orange! As a predominant color, however, it can really grate on your visitors nerves, so better to use it sparingly, to highlight certain aspects of your site. Orange would be a poor choice of background colors (unless you sell fruit juice), and remember... beware combining blues with your orange.
Red is the hottest of all colors, and as such, represents all things intense and passionate. Heat and fire, speed and zest, blood and excitement, competition and aggression, are all feelings and imagery evoked by the color red. It can be an irritating, restless color though, and should only be used when you wish to ignite your visitors. Red makes an excellent accent color, particularly when used with neutral colors, but clashes with green, blue and purple. Temper red with other warm tones like oranges, browns, and yellows, and you could easily make your site stand up and shout at the world.
Sunshine is yellow (in our minds at least!) and so with yellow comes optimism, happiness, idealism, and imagination. It can be an unsettling color though - which shouldn't be used unless you wish to convey bright, cheery feelings in your visitors. If you should decide to use yellow a lot in your site, it works well as a background color for easy readability with contrasting colors.
Psychologically, and on its own, white is the color of cleanliness and purity, youth, simplicity and innocence. White has become a very popular background color in web sites, because it offers the best readability onscreen, and as a "non-color," just about any palette works well against it.
Eileen 'Turtle' Parzek is a veteran marketing designer and online communications consultant who has been working from home and virtually since 1995. Her business, SOHO It Goes! specializes in providing technology driven design, marketing and communication services to small businesses and organizations.