Whats your wavelength?
Cynthia Lawson, Andrew Zornoza
Color and light is the focus of study in many disciplines, such as physiology, psychology,
philosophy, synesthesia and art. It is what my thesis concept is based on. I am learning about
how people relate to color because i want to find out how people see the world the way they do.
In doing this research my goal is to create digital learning environments that teach how color and
light influence ones perception of sound, touch, smell and sight. By recognizing how the five
senses interpret color to perceive the world, we can recognize patterns in the thoughts, actions
and decisions we make on a daily basis. Recognizing those patterns leads to new perceptions of
the world around us, which can alter thinking, change actions and cause reactions. Color can
cause physical discomfort or put our minds at ease. It is a powerful form of communication on a
local and global scale. Ethnicity, astrology, politics, ecology, military, education, health, food,
consumerism and music are just a few areas that are influenced by color.
In 2003 the United Nations reported that food rations distributed in Iraq by U.S. - led
coalition forces were “wrapped in the same yellow packaging as deadly so-called bomblets being
airdropped by the coalition” (CNN.com). This simple oversight in color usage put the lives of
hundreds of civilians in danger of mistaking food rations for explosives.
Color and the environment are also very closely related. Climate change is transforming
the colors of the earth. One of the largest ice caps in the world, on Mount Kilimanjaro is melting
causing the landscape to change from a large white area to dark brown and green one. Warmer
oceans and water sedimentation are causing coral reef bleaching, which is draining the ocean
floor of its color.
Symbols and signs we follow on a daily basis are color coded and are embedded into our
thinking. The U.S.A’s terror alert system is a good example. Red is the highest level warning
and green is the least. The designation of certain colors to “levels” of danger is an interesting
parallel, not to mention what colors were chosen and why.
Healthiness is commonly associated to color. Blue or green frequently represents illness
when pink or red-orange represents wellness. The color of your nails is a reliable sign of the
quality of your health. Discoloration in the peachy /off whit color of the nail can be a sign of
malnutrition or disease.
All of these examples are a few ways color influences the way humans interact with the
world. I am interested in using the theory and research that exists about human perception of
color as a foundation to create an interactive learning environment. I would like to create a se-
ries of digital and physical instillations that require people to use their five senses to perceive
color. These interactive environments would be installed in a mobile gallery where users learn
about the way they react to color and why they react the way they do. People will become aware
of simple color and light concepts while they make discoveries about how they perceive the
world around them . By presenting these concepts to a mass audience I intend to introduce the
idea that relating to color is a completely personal experience. It is interpreted differently by ev-
eryone and the context in which color is seen is important to each interpretation.
I plan to track the results of how the participants interact with each interface. Compiling
the data in a visual way is an important part of the project. Whether it is immediately after the in-
teraction takes place or much later I think showing a comparison of the results will be interest-
ing. Providing some kind of immediate visualization of the results will give the user immediate
feedback. This might take the form of a data sheet or “color profile”, printed out at the end of
the experience, where the user’s touch, taste, hearing and sight are measured in color. Alterna-
tively it might take the form of large data charts printed as posters where the results are present-
Objects in the instillation will be a mix of computer screens, musical instruments, pho-
tographs, games, posters, food and lights. In order to demonstrate the core mechanics and rules
of color, all of the objects will be in a controlled setting. Some examples might be a windowless
room, a sound proof room, a blindfolded taste test or a florescent lit corridor. The reason being
that color is very relative to the light and other colors that surround it so there needs to be a con-
stant setting in order for results of each user to be compared.
I would like the entire experience to be housed in a mobile gallery so it can be transport-
ed to different areas of NYC. Users will vary in age, culture and location. It will be a collective
space for discussion and documentation of the way people see color . Each user gets an individu-
al experience that becomes part of a larger shared experience. I believe this will be an interesting
way for people to start a conversation about their differences and similarities. “Parts and labor” is
a mobile gallery housed in a mobile truck with glass walls. I am interested in showing this
project in this context or finding a different one like it.
The following ideas are prototypes that I plan to test in the next few weeks. They range
from physical computing projects to simple musical instruments.
1.Color tracking: A camera outside the gallery tracks motion based on color. If it is set to red, it
will track everyone who walks by wearing red. The tracking returns a visual image on a TV or pro-
jection inside the gallery. While it documents how many people per hour/day are wearing a certain
color, it also becomes into an interesting visual and/or data record.
2.Color Frequency: Users will play the notes one at a time on a xylophone or keyboard. They will
have to choose a color that they feel closely corresponds to each note. Each note has an actual
equivalent in sound based on wavelength and frequency. The users choose their own equivalent
and can compare the actual equivalent afterward.
3.Taste the rainbow: Five cups conceal an assortment of flavored drinks. Each user tastes each one
and chooses what color the drink “tastes” most similar to. Each drink will be a distinct flavor (sour,
sweet, salty, tangy, bitter). The color chosen by the user that matches each drink is based on per-
sonal interpretation. This creates a relationship between color and how it symbolizes taste.
4.Color Profile: The results of the user’s tests are compiled into a data form both as an individual
and in a larger group. They can see how their results compares to a community of people, all with
different ways of seeing the world.
tion: Each wall of a four sided room will be painted with different color paint. There are two small,
lightweight blocks in the middle of the room with four sides, each one a different color. The paint is
slightly shiny so it reflects a little light. Users can turn, flip or move the blocks anyway they
choose, in any area that they choose. As the color sides on the smaller blocks reflect light onto the
walls of the room the color changes in appearance. The light source in the room is controlled so
there are no windows.
6. Color Balance: One photograph of each user will be taken as they enter the gallery. The pho-
to will duplicated several times but will be different each time. The skin tone will be slightly al-
tered each time, to be darker or lighter, or reder or yellower. The user will pick which photo-
graph they think is the “true” one. This will start a conversation about skin tone and racial
sterotypes and will also reveal what our perceptions are of the way we look.
Testing for these prototypes has not taken place. I am in the process of researching the
best way to conduct tests such as these. Psychological tests and how they are conducted are what
I am referencing in designing these prototypes. I am also in the process of developing a consis-
tent way to “measure” the results so i can draw conclusions from them. Each prototype has it’s
own particular issues. For example, in order to conduct the test on “color frequency” I need to
conduct more research on similarities between wavelengths of color and wavelengths of sound to
be sure I can definitely compare them. Once I have more of a foundation I will start the user test-
Previous explorations in my own work include a wide variety of areas like cell phone
performance art, fashion technology, urban tours, instillation and information design. My moti-
vation in all of these past projects comes from a desire to do create work with an interactive
quality to them, where the user can personalize an experience based on tools I provide. Here are
some examples of my prior work starting with most recent:
1.Pinky at After the Jump Fest, Littlefield Performance Space. Brooklyn, NY. August 2009: An in-
stillation designed for user interactions. People can climb to the upper level and look out of two
viewing holes to get an “elephants perspective”. A projector underneath the elephant plays “pink
elephants on parade” from the movie Fantasia.
2.Aurora Australis Box, May 2009: An interactive box that explains the scientific phenomenon be-
hind “Aurora Australis” . Numbers guide the user to unfold the box step by step to reveal graphics
and text describing the reasons this phenomenon takes place. Card games and toys are included.
3.NYC Waterbody: An informational booklet about the NYC water supply. Using the data from the
annual NY water report, I made an interactive tool to show people the same information in the re-
port, but in a more interesting way. It is intended to be mailed with the actual report.
4. Phototransirion gloves:
5. TourIna Box:
6. Text Text Dance:
7. Dear Diary:
In choosing this design concept I considered the following suggestion from The Craft of
Research. “A topic is an interest specific enough to support research that one might plausibly re-
port on in a book or article that helps others to advance their thinking and understanding”
(Booth, 36) This lead me to thing about learning environments and topics I might be able to ex-
pand on in an educational way. Another good suggestion from the same book reads “the starting
point of good research is always what you do not know or understand but feel you must” (Booth,
39). I have been teaching color relativity for three years, but feel there is a lot missing from the
way it is taught in an “art school” context. Exploring the way people experience color with their
five senses might open new ways to demonstrate how color connects people to their surround-
“From a narrowed topic to questions”, another chapter from The Craft of Research by
Wayne Booth, suggests a series of questions to help guide the research process. There is a per-
sonal element between the participants and the research. He suggests asking “how do the partici-
pants relate to the place” and “what use have the participants made of the story?” He goes on to
discuss the “value of the topics uses and parts”, which is an approach I find very applicable to
the way I would like to proceed with this project. Creating a “color story” of the users experi-
ence will allow them to relate to the experience more personally. Making the experience a valu-
able one is important so each part must have a learning component to it.
There are numerous scientists, philosophers, physicists and artists that have set reliable
precedents in the field of color relativity. All of them were and still are searching for answers
mysteries about light and color. In a letter to Wilhelm von Humbolt in 1798, Johann Wolfgang
von Goethe (artist and scientist) explained that by embarking on his History of the Theory of
Colours he had also hoped to create a "History of the Human Spirit in Miniature" (Virtual Color
Museum). For as long as color and light have been studied it has been applied to a larger con-
cepts of religion, astrology, mysticism and science. Attempting to get a broader understanding of
how different populations of people see the world through color will help me learn new ways of
experiencing color and light.
I am working with the color theory and graphic design coordinator in the Arts, Media and
Technology school of Parsons. He will be directing me to important resources as I proceed. I
will be in contact with psychologists and researchers through him. With this guidance I hope to
develop reliable interfaces where users can explore color.
Contextualization of color and light in relation to design, technology, history, society, cul-
ture, politics, psychology and philosophy is extensive. Much research has been done in relation
to color and light in each category. Here is a visual map of some examples.
Further explorations will lead to more extensive analysis of how the interactive tools I am
creating can be fully used to benefit communities that use them. This project provides an oportu-
nity to reach a large audience in a positive way. Comminicating the material in a simple and ef-
fective way is very important to the success of this project. I hope that it can grow and travel to
more cities so communities in different geographical areas can compare results with one another
to learn about their cultural similarities and differences. I wold like the results to be published
online or in print so people can read about them and learn from them without having to be
present. Most importantly I hope to create a reliable system to use as a foundation in expanding
on further learning environments I create in the future. Bill Clinton discussed the importance of
systems in a talk he gave on developing health care in Rawanda at the TED conference. He stat-
ed “It is not enough to create just one, you have to create a system... develop a model that can
and later be applied in other parts of the world...we have to build systems.........in a world without
systems everything becomes a gorilla struggle and the predictability is not there and it becomes
impossible to develop health care, save lives or educate kids” (Bill Clinton, TED).
1.Luscher Color Diagnostics. “Luscher Color Diangnostics: The Lscher-Color-Diagnostic measures
a person's psycho-physical state, his or her ability to withstand stress, to perform, and to communi-
cate.” http://www.colourtest.ue-foundation.org/kolory/kolor-index2.php (accessed August 21,
2.Lotto Lab Studio. “ Lotto Lab: Our aim is to explore and explain how and why we see what we
3.Sap Design Guild. “Optical Illusions: Phenomena of Contrast.”
http://www.sapdesignguild.org/resources/optical_illusions/contrast_phenomena.html (accessed Au-
gust 17, 2009)
4.Virtual Color Museum. “ Colour order systems in art and science.”
http://www.colorsystem.com/index.htm (accessed August 30)
5.CNN.com “U.N.: Iraqi Children may confuse rations, bomblets.”
(accessed August 30, 2009)
6.TED.com “Bill Clinton on rebuilding Rawanda”.
http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/bill_clinton_on_rebuilding_rwanda.html (accessed July 29
1.Angier, Natalie. “ How Do We See Red? Count the Ways” New York Times, February 6, 2007,
2.Konigsberg, Eric. “Made in the Shade” New Yorker, January 22, 2007.
1.Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Willliams. The Craft of Research. Chica-
go: University of Chicago Press, 2008.
2.Laurel, Brenda. Design Research Methods and Perspectives. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press,
3.De Waal, Frans. Our Inner Ape. NY: Riverhead Group, 2005
1.The Museum of Modern Art. “Color Chart: Reinventing Color, 1950 to Today. NYC. 2008
2.The Museum of Natural History. “Hall of Human Origins”. NYC. 2009
3.1889 Gallery. “Re/Build: A Collaborative Design Exhibition”. Brooklyn, NY. 2009
4.P.S.1 MoMA. “Leandro Erlich: Swimming Pool.” Queens, NY. 2009