Understanding Color:An Introduction for DesignersAn Introduction for Designers Chapter 3: The Human Element
More than 80% of oursensory experiences are visual.
The instrument used in solving color problems in the design studio is the normal, unaided human eye.
For artists and designers, even when aided by the tools of color technology, final decisionsabout color are made by the human eye alone.
The experience ofcolor begins with asensation.A sensation is anactual, physicalevent.
A sensation is the body’s response to a stimulus,something that is encountered from the outsideworld.
Light, which is visible energy, is the stimulus for the sensation of sight.
A stimulus is measurable; the color and quantity of light emitted by a light source can be measured.
Sensations are also measurable.An individual’s ability to detect light is measured as visual acuity, or sharpness of vision.
Visual acuity is the ability to sense patterns of light and dark and to resolve detail.It is a measure of the weakest light stimulus that anindividual can detect.
However, the ability to see differences between dark and light is not the same as visual acuity for color.
Visual acuity for color is the ability to detect differences between wavelengths (colors) of light.
The strength and wavelength of each color of light can beseparately measured using scientific instruments, but human beings do not see the spectrum as a progression of individual colors.
The spectrum of light is sensed as a flowing and unbrokencontinuum, with each color blending into the next like a rainbow.
The thresholdof vision is thepoint at which anindividual can nolonger detect adifferencebetween twoclose samples.
The thresholdof color vision isthe point atwhich adifferencebetween twosimilar hues canno longer bediscriminated.
Each person’s individual color acuity is influenced by physiology,health, and age.
Infants are believed to be able to detect differences between dark and light before they can see hue.
Many older people experience a progressive loss of the ability to discriminatebetween blues, greens,and violets - thought tobe caused by a gradualyellowing of the lens of the eye over time.
An interval is a step ofchange between visual sensations.
An individual’s threshold establishes the single interval; the point at which a detectable middlestep can no longer be inserted between two close colors.
DescendantParent Parent They are illustrated as three colors arranged in a linearseries, with a parent at each end and the descendant, a middle step between the two.
Parent-descendantmixtures can beset up betweencolors having onlyhue difference, likered and blue; onlyvalue difference,like black andwhite; or onlydifference insaturation, likebrilliant blue andgray-blue.
Intervals can also be set up between color samples that contrast in more than one quality.A brilliant red-violet and a tint of gray green have hue,value, and saturation contrast, but a middle step can still be found between them.
Even intervals occur when the middle step is visually equidistant between the two parents. The important thing about even intervals is that themidpoint be just that; no more like one parent than the other.
Intervals are not limited to the three steps of parent- descendant color mixtures.In a series of even intervals, each step is the visual midpoint between the samples on either side of it.
Parent-descendant color mixtures occur so frequently in color study that the word “interval” alone is often taken to mean an equidistant step, but intervals can also be uneven.
Creating order out of random information is afundamental function of human intelligence.
Images composed of even intervals are more quickly and easilyunderstood than images in which intervals are uneven or random.
Intervals are visually logical mixes. They arejudged by eye alone and no two people may agree on the exact midpoint between two samples.
A gradient is a series of progressive, even intervals so close that individual steps cannot be distinguished.
It is a seamless transition between differences.
Gradients can be from light to dark, from one hue to another,or from one saturation to another.
A sensation alone–a touch, taste, smell, sight or sound–is an incomplete event. The occurrence of a sensation is immediately followed by perception.
Perception is the critical connection between human beings and their environment. It is the understanding and awareness of what has been sensed.
Perception decides what has been sensed. It recognizesand identifies the sensation. It acts as a filter, separatinguseful and important information from competing stimuli in the environment.
When the brain receives a light stimulus it first interpretsform as distinct from background by sensing patterns of light and dark.
Figure-groundseparation, orpatternrecognition, is thefirst cognitive step inthe process ofperception. Itidentifies situationsby forms and theirarrangement
Color plays an important, but secondary, role in recognition.A red file folder and a blue file folder seem at first to be identified by color, but both red and blue folders are identified first as file folders, and only secondly by color.
The initial recognition in vision is of form, not color.
Recognition is based onlearned information from amultitude of sources:individual experience,social and cultural traditions,environmental surroundings,and formal teaching.
Everything seen is understood because its identity has beenlearned and the experience of it held in memory. Something new is recognized, correctly or incorrectly, because it is associated with some familiar thing that has similar characteristics.
Most perceptions occur unconsciously and at such high speed that they seem simultaneous with sensation.
What we think of as the sensory experience of color is always a fusion of sensation and perception. Unlike a sensation,a perception cannot be measured. It can only be described.
Understanding how we see, and how we process and respond towhat we see, translates directly into design applications. That is why designers study the fundamentals of perception.
Physiology studiesthe body and itsfunctioning. It is ameasurable sciencethat can quantifythe body’s physicalresponses to astimulus of color.
Psychology studiesbehavior; or howorganisms perceive andreact to situations whenthey are stimulated indifferent ways.Psychology candescribe–but notprecisely measure–theways in which humanbeings recognize,interpret, and respondto the stimulus of color.Psychology deals withperception.
Physiology:Responding to LightResponding to Light
The nervous system is an informationpathway from the outside world to the brain.
The nervous system is made up of three kinds of cells:‣ receptor cells‣ transmitter cells‣ brain cells
Receptor cellsreceive informationfrom the outsideworld (stimuli) andchange it into aform of electricalenergy that thebrain can use.Transmitter cellscarry these signalsto the brain.
The brain decodes each sensory event first by identifying which sense has been stimulated, then discriminates specific qualities within that sense.
Processing the information and generating a response to it is the final step.
Rods are responsible for peripheral (surrounding, less focused) vision.
Colors appear muted, and fine detail is more difficult to see, when rods dominate.
The visual field is the extent of area that can be seen by the two eyes of a viewer standing in one position.
The fovea is a tiny area at the back of the eye that is the center of the visual field.
The fovea contains only cones. It is the most sensitivearea of the retina, detecting patterns of light and dark and color with the greatest clarity.
Images and colors are seen less clearly when the light stimulus moves away from the fovea.
Both rods andcones are alwaysat work. It isalmost as if thereare two separatesystems, one forday and one fornight.
Adaptation is the involuntary response of theeye to the quantity of available light.
The retina moves back and forth (adapts) quickly between rodand cone dominance as the amount of available light increases or decreases.
Color perception lessens in dim light when rods dominate: perception in low light is in shades of gray.
Adaptation takesplace under anylighting conditions:lamplight,fluorescent,incandescent, orany other type oflight.
Lateral inhibition is an aspect of vision thatincreases the eye’s ability to distinguish edges.
Lateral Inhibition When a pattern of light and dark contrast reaches the retina, the cells that receive the light part of the imageinhibit the ability of the ones next to them to detect light.
As a result, areas next to bright spots appear darker. The greater the quantity of light, the more lateralinhibition takes place: light areas appear lighter and dark areas appear darker.
The sensation of light is received in two areas of the brain:‣ the cerebral cortex‣ hypothalamus (or midbrain)
The cerebral cortex is the center of cognitive activity. It receives information and processes it; recognizing,interpreting, and structuring a response to each stimulus. It receives information and processes it; recognizing,interpreting, and structuring a response to each stimulus.
The midbrain, or hypothalamus,controls the internal environment of the body. Sensations of light transmitted to the midbrain act as a biological stimulus to the central nervous system.
The midbrain controls blood pressure and body temperature.
It also stimulates glands that control the production and release of hormones. When the brain is stimulated by athought, mental image, or outside stimulus (like light), the midbrain triggers the release of hormones.
A color stimulus has an effect on the strongest human needs and emotions–stress, hunger, thirst, and sex.
Sunlight, which contains all colors, is essential to human life. Thehuman body is genetically adapted to function at a normal level in response to the sun’s pattern of energy emission.
Changing the strength of a color stimulus causes an actual change in the body. Exposure to an elevated level of redstimulates hormone production and raises blood pressure... Exposure to an elevated level of redstimulates hormone production and raises blood pressure...
...while exposure to an elevated level of blue has been shown to lower blood pressure and depress hormonal secretions.
The immediate biologic response of the body to a stimulus is phasic arousal. Phasic arousal is abrupt and lasts very briefly, like the surge of adrenalin that is experienced in a sudden and frightening situation.
Tonic arousal is the body’s response over a prolonged period.The body has a norm for tonic arousal, and the brain continuallydirects the adjustment of hormone levels to keep it at that norm.
Stimulation by a strong color causes phasic arousal–animmediate reaction–that can be physiologically measured, but the arousal is short term: the duration of the effect is not continuous.
Because exposure to color changes the body’s hormonal balance, it can also cause changes in behavior. Colors can be chosen to stimulate, depress, or otherwise alter mood. Inenvironmental design,both overstimulation and understimulation have equally negative effects.
Human beings respond best to living spaces that have color, but not an overload of highly stimulating color.
A graphic designer may choose a brilliant color to arouse short-term attention.
Restaurant designers use red to stimulate appetite.
The muted colors of funeral homes aremeant to minimize emotional response.
An extreme example of color used to modify behavior occurs with a color known as Baker-Miller pink.
It has been hypothesized that exposure to Baker-Miller pink reduces aggressive behavior.
The effects of phasic arousal begin after a short period of exposure and last for about half an hour.
Colors can also be experienced without a stimulus oflight. The brain alone, without a light stimulus, allows us to dream in color, or to imagine color with closed eyes.
A headache or ablow on thehead can triggervivid images ofblue stars.Color can beseen in themind’s eye.Color can beseen in themind’s eye.
The eye is not the only organ that responds tolight. Light is also absorbed through the skin.
The use of colored light to act on the body through the skin is a routine medical practice. The treatment of jaundiced infants with light is a standard and effective therapy.
Color therapy remains an active field, although no clinical studies have shown any efficacy, and the practice of medicine by colortherapists is illegal in America.
Synaesthesia is a long-recognized but largely unexplainedphenomenon in which one sense responds to the stimulation of another.
There are reports of persons who are able to determine thecolors of objects through touch only, people that hear a sound when they see a certain color, and people having particular tastes when hearing a piece of music.
All of the types of visual responses talked about so far areinvoluntary, biologic responses of the body to a stimulus of light.
The perception of color also includes involuntary psychological responses.
The cerebral cortex, the reasoning part of the brain, identifies and organizes a response QuickTime™ and a to each color stimulus GIF decompressorare needed to see this picture. that is unconscious, but based on past learning. Stored information has a profound influence on color perception.
One of theseresponses is a kind of expectation called memory color.
Memory color meansthat the viewer makes an unconscious assumption about the color of something - the “orange” of an orange, for example.
Color constancy is a second and equally powerful form of expectation. It means that the colors of familiar objects retain their identity no matter what the general lighting.
Color constancy is a second and equally powerful form of expectation. It means that the colors of familiar objects retain their identity no matter what the general lighting.
An image stored in memory overrides what is actually seen.
A second kind of color constancy occurs when close colors are perceived as being identical.
In an all-white kitchen, the white of the refrigerator, the counters, the floor, the cabinets and the paint may all be different, but the immediate cumulative effect is that they are the same.
Color constancy is also called “chromatic adaptation.”
Designers need notalways beconcerned withfractionaldifferences betweencolors becausememory color andcolor constancyscreen outimportant colordifferences fromones that do notmatter.
Color is universallyrecognized as aparticular kind ofvisual experience.
When the brainreceivesinformation, itidentifies it byname. In a widely-accepted study,Berlin and Kaydetermined that 98languages hadnames for elevenbasic colors.
These are the eleven colors inorder of recognition.
We believe that most people experience the same sensation whenthey look at something that is red. They may disagree about theexact name for the red - crimson, ruby, or scarlet - but thesensation is the same.
Color study requires only six names for colors; red, orange, yellowgreen, blue, and violet.
Design and marketing professionals use romantic names for colors, like Venetian Red, Bermuda Blue, or Aztec Gold.
Both ways of naming colors are important in design as long as the critical difference between the two is recognized: the six hues of color study deal with eye training, color recognition and color use; the countless color names of marketing are about product image and sales.
Color as Language:From Name to MeaningFrom Name to Meaning
Color is a living language. The meanings of colors can change over time.
The norm used to bepink for boys and blue for girls because light blue was associated with the Virgin Mary and pink was considered a more “aggressive” color at the time.
For every individual the meaning of a color or group of colors, is shaped by a hierarchy of outside forces: culture, spokenlanguage, social status, setting, time, and individual life experience.
For instance, in someAmish communities,you never see the coloryellow in their beautifulquilts because it isconsidered the color ofcowardice.
Colors and color groups can be used as symbols. Symbols for major societal concerns like nationhood tend to maintain theirmeaning over time and can be thought of as permanent for each population.
Semantics is the study of meaning of words,passage of words, or other form of language– including the language of color.
Awareness of cultural differences in the semantics of color is critical to the marketing of any product intended for the global market.
Even with the same audience and with the same time period no color is limited to a single meaning.
Some symbolic colors are so important incommunicating ideas that theirmeanings havebeen legislated.
Red Blue When colors are seen with simultaneous and conflictinginformation, the area of the brain that responds to color competes with other parts of the brain in structuring a response.
The resultingdelay andconfusion inperception iscalled theStroopInteraction.
“Fashion” colors, thecolor trends of consumermarketing, are transitoryand cyclical.(These are the colorforecasts for 2013.)
But the experiences andassociations buried inour memory have moreeffect on our emotionalresponses to colors thanany passing trend.You might get a greatdeal of satisfaction fromviewing a particularshade of blue because itreminds you of yourGrandmother’s garden -a happy memory for you.
Impressional or associative colors evoke imagery without symbolic meaning.For instance, grayed blue-greens may call to mind the icy cold of a winter sea.
YellowWritten and spoken words for colors communicatethe same symbolic ideas as actual colors but they are understood more indirectly. Words are processed as thought rather than as a sensory experience.
The immediacy of a color symbol diminishes when it is presented as words. However, its meaning is unchanged.
Reading the words “red, white, and blue” takeslonger to process than the sight of a flag in full color.