PricewaterhouseCoopers : Colouring perceptions

Inconsistent use of colour spoils its role in orientation.

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The Site

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), a UK-based professional services company, fluffs an opportunity to bolster orientation, by mixing but mismatching colours. PwC’s website features a stylised primary navigation bar in which each of the seven headings changes colour on mouseover and shows a dropdown menu of its sub-sections. Each heading has its ‘own’ bespoke colour; for example, Today’s issues is crimson red, Press room is gold. Colour is used similarly within sections to highlight topics in the left-hand navigation and for the page heading and the thickened header rules. However, the colours used here are not consistent with those used in the primary bar and also swap association. So, for example, Our services, mauve pink in the primary bar, uses a deep plum red within the section, which is the colour of Research & insights in the primary bar; Careers switches from olive green to the same dark yellow within section that is also used on pages in Industry sectors, Today’s issues and Research & insights.

The Takeaway

PwC’s orientation system is basically good, with the current section and page clearly highlighted in colour against the monochrome of the other menu items. Within each section, the colouring matching of menu items and page headings is generally consistent. And yet the clarity is compromised by the mismatch of colour designations between the primary and in-section navigation. Allied to the restriction of the colour palette at page level (three colours do not feature), what should be an opportunity to add a useful extra dimension to the site’s orientation aids instead becomes a potential source of confusion. The lack of coordination between such closely related elements of the navigation system also reflects badly at a more subliminal level on the company’s capabilities: either no one was managing the complexity adequately or no one spotted the ‘value added’ to be had. Not only would the logic and reliability of a system in which each section was associated throughout with its own colour be more reassuring to users. Assigning colours to ‘their’ section so that the user could easily associate a colour with a section would add a subtle distinction that would bolster orientation.
First published 16 February, 2012
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