How is a color defined? Such a seemingly simple question turns out to be very complex. There is thus a great need for a standardized terminology and clear definitions. But then you probably search in vain. There are different approaches, some very old, and what is available is partly contradictory. Here, therefore, only a brief introduction is given to the concept of color and the visual impression of color. And a little curio.
You don’t see what I see…
Because we all see differently, it is often difficult to describe a color so that it can be understood exactly by others. Fatigue, the individual eye, age and other physiological factors can affect our perception of color. But even without such physical differences, we interpret color based on personal preferences. Each person therefore also describes the color of an object differently.
Color or hue or what?
This is where the confusion potentially begins. What exactly is the difference between color and hue? The concepts are mixed well in everyday speech and the word color itself can mean different things.
What is the difference between color, shade, hue, tint and tone? You can read in the links below but also here for guidance.
A color is a sensory impression caused by light. The impression is conveyed by the eye and the brain interprets it. The visible light is electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength between 380 and 760 nanometers. The perception of color is subjective and is determined not only by the type of incident light radiation but also by the eyes, the sensitivity of the receptors, the sensory system and the interpretation of the brain.
Other optical perception phenomena such as structure (light and shadow effects), gloss or roughness as well as psychological effects have nothing to do with color.
There is plenty of literature on the subject and the following links to Wikipedia in different languages can be helpful if you want to start improving. There are also links to the non-fiction. (SV – Färg, EN – Color, TY – Farbe).
Attempts to describe the properties, composition and use of colors have been made at least since ancient times. Already Aristotle wrote about the subject and other famous names who dealt with the problem are among many others Newton, Goethe and Leonardo da Vinci. Their various areas of activity in science, philosophy, literature and art give an indication of the complexity when trying to describe what color is and thereby create conditions for communication about color. Even today, color theory is an interdisciplinary area of knowledge.
Historically, different approaches opposed, and fought against, each other but now increasingly complement each other. This is based on an increasing understanding of research results from physics (electromagnetism and optics), physiology and psychology. These are also complemented by different artistic perceptions. Here, too, there is plenty of literature on the subject as well as interesting reading can be found on Wikipedia, among other places (SV – Färglära, EN – Color theory, TY – Farbenlehre).
Approaches from different areas of knowledge
One focus was to examine the physical processes on which the optical laws of color and color phenomena are based. The wavelength-dependent effect of visible light in connection with electromagnetic waves forms the basis for the studies.
Artists, especially painters, have always tried to understand the phenomenon of color. The focus is on the effect on the viewer and the theories about the interaction between colors.
Physiology and biology
Throughout history, physiologists have tried to explain how stimuli caused by light are received by plants, animals, and humans, how they are transmitted, processed, and then “recognized” in the biological organism. The focus of the research is on the organ systems of humans, animals and plants during and after the reception of light stimuli. Ultraviolet (wavelength below 380 nm) and infrared light (wavelength above 780 nm) are included in the study.
Color perception results in physiological and psychological effects on the body and psyche. The latter are examined by psychologists, whose results are practically implemented in color therapy and in interior design.
There are different types of color systems that classify colors and analyze their effects.
The American Munsell color system developed by Albert H. Munsell is a well-known classification that organizes different colors based on hue, value (lightness) and chroma (saturation).
Other important color systems include the Swedish Natural Color System (NCS), the American Optical Society of America’s Uniform Color Space (OSA-UCS) and the Hungarian Coloroid system developed by Antal Nemcsics.
Through various color systems, attempts have been made to create a system for the description and designation of colors. However, these systems are based on different approaches.
- NCS and Munsell are based on how perceptions are perceived, ie their visual properties.
- For TVs and computer screens, there is the RGB system and in printing the CMYK system is used.
- Cielab is a colorimetric system and is based on measurements of light radiation and its spectral distribution.
American Pantone and German RAL are color matching systems that differ from the previous ones in that their color space (which refers to a geometric representation of colors as coordinates in a space) is not based on a color model where there is a designation for each color by coordinates indicating the color. location in a color space with (ideally) well-defined reference points.
These systems instead arrange colors by entering a list number but without saying anything about them as such. Pantone Matching System, PMS, is mainly used for printing and RAL mostly in industrial painting and varnishing, for example on window frames.
Colors are important to us and they affect us in different ways. We are affected by colors consciously and unconsciously and to varying degrees. Colors can make us happy and there are scientific studies that support certain effects.
If light from a certain light spectrum is detected by the eye, this results in complex and color-specific psychological effects in the central nervous system in addition to the sensory perception of a color, such as “cherry red” or “sky blue”.
Psychological color effects are found in all cultures, which is reflected in their respective proverbs and sayings. People from the same culture have a lot in common through tradition and upbringing, but there are also individual differences within a culture.
A certain color choice for a product can work in one market or part of the world, but not another. Purple, for example, is a color that symbolizes sorrow in Thailand. In Western culture, purple, or classically precious purple, is associated with royalty, luxury, wealth and sometimes magic. The brand color of Thai Airways is purple. At first glance, it seems like a big mistake on their part due to the association with grief in Thailand. However, it is likely that Thai Airways’ website is not primarily aimed at locals but at tourists, so if Westerners see the website and see purple, they will associate Thai Airways with values such as luxury and comfort.
Some more examples:
- In Western cultures, black is a color of sorrow. In Japan, however, it is a color of honor and glory, while white is the color of sorrow.
- Red represents in the West danger, love, passion. In India it is a color for purity, in China for happiness and in South Africa for sorrow.
- Yellow represents courage in Japan but sorrow in Egypt and hope in the West.
So there are some pitfalls if you assume that colors are interpreted the same everywhere.
But used properly, the mental effects of color perception can be used in marketing and communication. This can be done purely intuitively or consciously to achieve effects in artistic and industrial design. Usually the recipient is not aware of it but the effect is there.
Various color tests (Lüscher color tests) claim that one can draw conclusions about the test subject’s personality from a persons preference for certain colors and color combinations.
Other color tests are said to be able to provide information about how a personality reacts to certain colors. These claims have never been scientifically proven despite many studies.
Here are some links about the psychology of colors and you will find many more online.
Colors – who likes what?
You may have also experienced it: you have to paint a wall and stand in the paint shop with a person close to you. You may be say “I like that red color” but the other person does not think that what you are talking about, even remotely, could be called “red” . The professional seller must be neutral, which tryly can be challenging . But the fact remains: you do not see what I see. Already in the introduction, we described that color is a visual impression and its interpretation depends on many factors.
No wonder then that this opens up for widely differing interpretations between individuals but also countries and continents. Sometimes there is a consensus and sometimes none at all. Here are some highlights about different preferences and trend interpretations.
Car colors are a way to see which colors are popular around the world. There are several different reports on color statistics in the automotive industry, such as the example here. The statistics include both solid paints and effect paints (metallics).
Shutterstock is one of the world’s largest image agencies where you can buy digital images. Every year, the company compiles color trends based on its database and pixel analysis of what customers have chosen. Here you can also see how the trend colors vary in different countries.
Many paint manufacturers also work to find color trends to use them as a base to inspire customers or in conversations with designers. This is how one of AMB’s suppliers, Berlac, writes about its trend research:
“Anyone who, like Berlac, works with colors is inevitably concerned about the changes that our society is undergoing. For us color experts, accurate observation is the best and final, as we predict future developments from observed changes. In fact, we do not invent anything new, but we constantly pay attention to new trends in the consumer world and use this knowledge as a basis for the further development of innovative tools.
The latest collection Trend Colors under the motto Romantic Valleys consists of 4 inspiring themes, which are illustrated with the help of pictures, text descriptions and of course 8 colors each. ”
There are also differences between the sexes. A well-known study by Johan Hallock with the approach to being global from 2003 resulted in the following differences between men and women:
Blue is thus the most popular color for both sexes and it also applies to all age groups.
Green is liked by both sexes equally and as for the rest it’s quite equal with one big exception: When it comes to purple, which women have as their second favorite color, men seem to hate that color. This can be called a statistically significant difference.
Historical color trends
Here you can find a fun compilation from the (American) digital agency Juicebox:
Colors and hue etc are all synonyms in different contexts, but there are also definitions for the difference. Then it becomes complex and difficult to figure out what is what. As for the concept of beauty, one can perhaps lean towards Plato’s classic “Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder”. In any case, there is no point in defending one’s view of color because it is precisely this: the individual perception and interpretation of a color. Better then to talk about how the experience differs and whether the difference is decisive for what you want to achieve. But if you are looking for ideas for a cheerful discussion, you can of course use this theme.
Vignette photo: Hier und jetzt endet leider meine Reise auf Pixabay aber fromPixabay