The role of colour in the Universe has a lot to do with the way we perceive the world than in terms of meaning. Giving meaning to these colours and to what they might depict is something that humans have devised and programmed their minds to do. As a result, colours are considered one of the most important tools when it comes to sending a message across through design.
Physically and mentally, the human body reacts to colour in the way that it has been programmed to do so. Colours have been known to create ambient atmospheres that can manipulate your mood or extract a certain kind of reaction from you. Effectively, colour is widely used as a control-feature plainly because humans have been programmed, since birth, to think in a certain way.
Vision is not a plain and simple process – it takes years to develop and fine-tune. We never realise the amount of effort that goes into it because all that effort begins from the moment we are born. It is before the time that our memories can recall that we start developing the physiological stage of processing information through the light that passes through our eyes.
In 1910, two surgeons conducted a successful operation on an 8-year old boy who had been blind since birth. Moreau and Le Prince, the two surgeons, famously wrote about how their excitement died down as the boy couldn’t see them waving their hands in front of his eyes. All the boy would see would be a vague change in blindness. The absence of those years of vision-development and connecting colours, shapes and light to the real world meant that the child had no idea what or who he was seeing.
In our world, we know a banana is yellow because we have all reached a consensus about what is yellow. We all have also reached a general consensus on the properties of the colour yellow and why we think it to be them. This is because someone may have told us that the banana is yellow and we begin associating the colour yellow, in our minds, to the banana. So the next time we see something that is close to the banana’s shade that’s stored away in our minds, we immediately recognize it as yellow.
Basically, the concept of colour constancy ensures that our perception or mental image of a particular colour and its characteristics remain the same no matter what kind of situation we see those objects or colours in. That means, even if you see a yellow banana in red light, where it appears orange, you will still say that the colour of a banana is yellow!
Using this in Design
How someone is brought up, where they are brought up and what kind of influences they have in life are extremely important for a designer to know and realise. For a designer, all these aspects are clues for choosing colours to invoke reactions amongst people. A baby-care product will never have sharp or harsh colours like red or orange or black. Instead, you’ll find a lot of pale colours or pastels because it signifies softness. When someone buys products for their baby, they don’t want it to hurt their child and sharp or harsh colours will create that perception.
While colour theory is completely based on how the mind is trained to perceive the standards of colours that have been created, for designers, the knowledge of colour theory is extremely essential. It is that knowledge which will give you the understanding of how to focus your design’s colours to evoke the kind of reaction you require. When you realise that colour is nothing but a perception of the brain – a response of the data received by the brain through a visual sensor, you will be able to understand the kind of reaction that particular colour (or perception) creates.
That is how we’ve come to the conclusion that Red is a hot or warm colour denoting anger or rage or blood, while blue is a milder or calmer colour that invokes pleasant thoughts and feelings. These are perceptions that, on the basis of the brain’s response, help us determine what kind of colour we need to put into our designs.
None of these values, like anger for red, are absolute – which means they can mean different things for different people. However, there is still a general understanding of colour that tells us that if we want our designs to make an impact, in fact the right kind of impact, then we need to focus on colours and their influence in our lives.
Alfredo do Nascimento – author
One of Alfredo’s biggest advantages, as a designer, is his exposure to different cultures. Brazilian by birth, global by choice, Alfredo travels around the world in order to pick up ideas, follow his world of art and pick up things that can come handy when working. Inspired by agencies such as Mariart Graphic Design, Alfredo found himself applying a lot of his ideas on the importance of colour in design, which he had picked up from all his experiences. His awards speak for the dedication he has for his work. However, ask him if they make a difference and he’d probably be the first to admit they’re junk.