A Brief history of our modern understanding of colour and it’s practical applications in affecting the mood & choices of modern consumers.
For my dissertation I plan to conduct research into the role colour plays in our lives, how it affects people, and where our understanding of colours properties and affects began.
I hope to approach this subject from a number of directions, with online research, textual analysis and primary research.
Here is my initial proposal for my essay.
In my essay on colour theory & colour psychology I intend to explore the origins of colour and our early use of it to affect mood & influence choice. Understanding the many uses colour has been put to through history, including medical use, regional culture, advertising, design and politics is as important to us in understanding the environment that surrounds us as it is to decision makers in their efforts to affect that environment.
As a designer I have become aware of the role colour plays in all our lives and how very little attention most people pay to it. Taken for granted, we accept it as part of the background and have not quite become desensitised to it but instead have relegated it to our subconsciousness in the same way we relegate most of the actions of driving a car or running without falling over.
Colour is an enormous part of the industry in which I hope to practice and so I feel it’s only natural to have as much an understanding of it as I can to better allow me to wield it as a tool in my designs.
This essay will not attempt to present a comprehensive list of colours, their effects or their relationships to other colours. It will instead focus on the origins of our understanding & our application of that understanding of colour and its effects.
Below are listed some of the key areas of study I will explore. As this is only a dissertation proposal I will be covering most if not all of these areas in more detail in the final essay.
What is colour theory
Colour theory is an enormous field but one could look at three areas that can be broadly described as key to our understanding.
- The colour Wheel
- Colour Harmony
- Colour context
What is colour psychology
Colour psychology is the study of the effects of various hues on human behavior. How it affects us in both a psychological & a physical way.
I will be looking at the use of colour in various areas such as its use in the medical industry, and also its use in business & politics to project an impression of someone.
I will also be exploring the differences in the perception to other cultures of various colours. For instance, while one colour may signify one meaning to people in the west, it may be used by people in the far east for an entirely different reason with a totally opposing set of values attached.
I intend to conduct research into the uses of colour by industry. I hope to carry this out through direct interview and am currently awaiting a reply to a request to Ryanair to discuss their use of colour in their business.
A number of people through history have been influential in progressing our understanding of colour. From as far back as Aristotle, to as recent as studies done by researchers such as Angela Wright.
My main sources of secondary research will come from sources such as:
- Online studies – Including research conducted by Angela Wright.
- Theory of colours – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – who inspired artists such as Wassily Kadinsky.
- The Art of Colour – Johannes Itten Who was instrumental in expanding the modern understanding of colour.
- Colour & Meaning – John Gage who also looks at optical colour mixing & other psychological effects.
Key Influences in the area of colour theory & Colour psychology.
The Greek philosopher & scientist Aristotle published his theory on the 7 basic colours & 4 elements which was the first scientific look at the properties of colour. This informed popular understanding for centuries to come but was disputed by later researchers as modern understanding of physics developed.
In 1810 Johann Wolfgang Von Gothé published his work “Theory of Colours” which laid out his theories on how colour is perceived by people. His concern was with how colour was perceived by people & it’s effects rather than with the properties of colour which was the primary focus of Isaac Newton when he wrote “Opticks” in 1704.
When Johannes Itten produced his work on “The Art of Colour” in 1973 he provided one of the most comprehensive examinations on the subject of colour & its properties which is still being referenced & examined today.
How does it apply to my area of practice
I intend to show how my research into the theory & practice of colour application has informed my choices of colour in projects such as my own personal branding, my development of a book for the project Journey, which is a kids travel book, and also my project into boosting the creative conditions within the graphics room of Collaiste Dhulaigh.
While this introduction is a bit wordy and has a lot of unrelated information in it, I think It manege’s to stay pretty close to where I wanted to go with my essay. At the very least it was a good way to get the ball rolling on how to proceed and solidify some ideas I had about what I wanted to cover.
The main point of this essay is to discover more about the subject of colour for myself, and gain a better understanding of how it relates to the business I am studying for. I think it is hugely important to have a good understanding of colour and it’s effects on people, and to be able to use it like you would any other language to communicate a message through design.
I conducted a lot of research through Google Scholar and various other websites to gain a basic understanding of the field of colour theory & psychology so that I would have at least the basis of an understanding when I got deeper into my textual analysis or conducted interviews. The list of web links can be found at the bottom of my finished dissertation.
I was able to find a lot of good information, beginning with Aristotle who was one of the first to put down a theory of light & it’s properties. His theory was the accepted truth until the time of Sir Isaac Newton when more modern thinkers developed their own theories. That being said, a lot of what Aristotle observed holds true to this day.
With the work of Newton, as published in his text Optiks, and it’s subsequent challenging by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, we began the next phase in the development of our understanding of colour.
Newton did a lot of work on the properties of light but thought there was no further properties other than what he could show through scientific tests. Goethe however, though he misunderstood a lot of what Newton had said, disagreed with him and suggested that there was more to colour than just its physical properties, stating that how we see colour is dependent on the peoperties of colour yes, but also conditions and proximity to other colours and our perceptions of colour.
Both Newton & Goethe laid the foundation for the next generation of experimentation to further our knowledge of the field.
I then researched the work of Johannes Itten and Josef Albers who were at the core of our next leap forward in colour theory. Their texts and experiments are relevant to this day and were built upon by people like Angela Wright who is a British researcher who worked on testing and cataloguing the effects of all colour tints on various types of people.
Of all the artists & researchers, Itten and Albers produced some of the more interesting ideas for me. Albers especially intrigued me with his work for his book Interaction of colours. Some of his experiments explained how colour can change due to perception and proximity to each other. It clearly shows that, contrary to Newton’s theory, colour is hugely related to perception and not just it’s quantifiable properties.
For instance, his experiment here shows that we perceive the colour of a single strip of paper to be different simply by it being placed above a different colour base paper.
My primary research looked at a number of areas. I first applied for interviews with someone from Ryanair and Colourtrend but got no response. I then arranged an interview with an industry expert and was able to get an insight into how colour might be used in affect our decision making process and customer experience. The audio file is below.
I was looking to speak to Ryanair as they have always used a lot of colour when promoting their brand, however lately the received new aircraft that had a feature in the ceiling that would change the colour of the cabin lights to either soothe or energise passengers, or even encourage hunger at mealtimes. The images below show the current aircraft on the left and the new aircraft on the right.
I spoke to Dr. Christine Mullen-Jensen from Spark Market research to get an industry insight into how colour is used in industry to market products and services, improve customer experience, and influence our decision making process. The audio file is here.
What Dr. Mullen-Jensen explained was the importance of colour to companies who are marketing their products to a certain type of customer. As explained in my essay, one client used colour to differentiate between a range of their products to try guide people towards the more expensive end of the range.
Another observation she made was the trends that companies followed are always changing. A lot of the cheaper brands have moved away from the harsh yellow or red branding and moving towards more subtle branding. There is also
How colour theory applies to me.
As my research has shown, there isn’t an aspect of business today that does not benefit from a strong consideration of the colours employed on a daily basis. As a designer, I believe it is unthinkable to be a creative and not have an understanding of the properties of colour and how it can be used to enhance a project, or poorly used can be detrimental to it.
In relation to my own work, for instance my own brand, I wanted to convey as much of my core values as was possible through my brands appearance. There aren’t too many ways in which this can be accomplished without speaking to a client. Your brand is often seen on printed or social media through the logo or other materials so it has to communicate your brand or values visually.
I have tried to communicate these values through shape, choice of font, and most importantly colour. My main colour palette being Orange and Blue. At first impression this choice is suggestive of fun, energy, lightheartedness and passion. However the deeper suggestion is one of creativity, trustworthiness, reliability and professionalism.
I have had my brand in action since January both in networking situations and with prospective clients. So far the response has been overwhelmingly positive both from fellow designers at Offset and professional clients. It has not yet failed to kick start a very lively conversation.
I have also applied my brand colours across my Website and App. I have used a tint of both colours to really good effect. The blue gives a very calming effect, and with deeper shades can be used to give a more serious tone to a section. The orange is used often to highlight a page section or on call to action buttons. There is research that shows colour has an impact on CTA buttons and that orange will actually result in a higher click rate than a darker or blander colour. You can read more about this research on my post about web design.
I have made colour a central part of how I communicate both personally and through my brand. It was always clear to me how important a role it plays, and my research to date has only served to reinforce that belief.
Here’s a link to some information on how to approach the task of writing a dissertation.
PDF Documents used for research.
Some online research links.
The interactive effects of colors and products on perceptions of brand logo appropriatenes: