Interesting article about a guy who built his own colour-measurement device at home from simple components.
The UK government is set to rebrand its departments with bold new colour schemes. The new colours include lots of blues and greens; for example, navy blue for the Foreign Office, bright blue for the NHS and green for the Department of Energy and Climate Change. However, the The Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which is purple at the moment, is reassigned bright pink.
Read more here.
When I was young I used to read Marvel comics. My favourites were Spiderman and The Fantastic Four but I also liked the Hulk and Thor. When I was about 10 (in about 1972) I even had this idea of designing a wrist band that could shoot out web like spiderman. What I needed was a substance that would flow (as a liquid) when it was shot out but then quickly solidified to create the web. I noticed that polystyrene turned liquid under heat and I started to build a prototype. Sadly it never worked. But I often wonder if this incident sparked my interest in chemistry, an interest that led me to study Colour Chemistry at Leeds University in 1983 and finally to my lifelong passion for colour.
I just came across a story that the Hulk was not green in the original comic strip versions. He was grey!! Apparently, in The Hulk’s debut (May 1962, a few days after I was born) Lee chose grey for the Hulk because he wanted a colour that did not suggest any particular ethnic group. The chap in charge of the colour, Stan Goldberg, however, had problems with the grey; colour management was not what it is now and this resulted in several different shades of grey, and even green, in the first issue! Given the colour problems, Lee chose to change the skin colour to green. What a shocker! Next, I’ll probably find out that Spiderman was not real!!
About 8% of men are colour blind. In the past I have written about how designers may not adequately take this into account effectively ignoring 4% of the population. I also wrote about how in Korea the problem of traffic lights for colour blind people was being addressed by using different shapes for the different colours.
Now I am interested to hear about a development from Japan – Professor Ochiai at Kyushu Sangyo University has developed a clever modification that is not noticed by people with normal colour vision but helps those who are colour blind. Before the introduction of LED lights people often could tell red from green by the difference in brightness. But LED lights are so bright that they look rather similar in brightness, and for someone with red-green colour blindness they may look identical. Professor Ochiai has added a blue cross to the red light which is very visible to colour-blind observers but can hardly be noticed by the rest of us. Very clever!!
The new lights are being tested in Fukuoka and are due to go on test in Tokyo soon.
I am a scientist working in a design school who researches colour. I sometimes get frustrated by the simplistic view of colour and its use in branding, marketing and advertising pervades the internet (where anyone can be an expert). People often misinterpret my own work and imagine that all sorts of simplistic ideas stem from my research. So, for example, imagine that there is a company (that is aiming to deliver sustainable and environmentally responsible power) that is looking to brand itself and also imagine that my research reveals that the colour green is associated with the environment and nature. Typically people may say (or imagine that I would say) that it is obvious that the company should use the colour green as the basis of its branding strategy. However, this is a very simplistic view and one that I certainly don’t subscribe to.
When a company is constructing a branding strategy one has to consider many facets of the branding and marketing. What is the proposition that the company is making? How can colour support that or help to communicate it? A company may, for example, even may an ironic statement where it chooses colours and imagery that is the opposite of what it really stands for, just as an example. I quite enjoyed reading a post today by thebrandsquad that gave quite an intelligent and thoughtful analysis of colour in branding (using a case study rather like the fictitious example I refer to above).
See also Greenwashing – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenwashing
Why are leaves green? The most obvious answer is that they contain green pigments, the most abundant being chlorophyll and that chlorophyll absorbs the short and long wavelengths in the visible spectrum leaving the middle wavelengths to be reflected and scattered. However, the deeper question is why should chlorophyll absorb in the short and long wavelengths of the visible spectrum when there is more light available in the middle of the spectrum?
The spectral irradiance of sunlight varies with the time of day, the weather conditions, the time of year, and the latitude/longitude. However, I think it would be reasonable to say that by and large, in most situations, the peak irradiance is in the middle of the spectrum (that which we would normally associate with being green and yellow).
So if one assumes that evolution has produced a perfect engineering solution to this aspect of nature in particular then I think one may expect plants to absorb mainly in the middle part of the spectrum (and this would result in the bluish and reddish wavelengths being reflected and a purplish colour).
So why don’t we have a chlorophyll equivalent that is purple? I have come across a number of arguments.
1. One could go further and say that if a plant wanted to be really efficient it would absorb all wavelengths of the visible spectrum and would therefore appear black. So black, rather than purple, would be the perfect engineering solution. Given that most plants are neither black nor purple then I think we can assume that evolution did not find the perfect engineering problem or that the problem is more complex than we think. For example, it could be that a plant that is black would absorb too much light and overheat. Or it could be that chlorophyll evolved from some earlier light-sensitive chemical and that genetic mutations could lead more easily to chlorophyll than to purple or black pigments.
2. Taking this point further, I have heard it suggested that most plants evolved from earlier plants that lived under water and that absorbed mainly short wavelengths of light (long wavelengths – red – cannot penetrate much more than 1 m of water). These earlier cousins of the modern plant would most likely have been brownish. Indeed, if one looks today ay plants in seawater, green plants are only seen on the surface or at very low depths. So the ancestor of chlorophyll could have been a brown pigment which mutated into green chlorophyll more easily than it could have mutated into a purple pigment.
3. I have also come across the ‘early purple earth’ hypothesis. This suggests that originally most plant life on land was indeed optimally purple and that chlorophyll absorbed to take advantage of those wavelengths that were not already being gobbled up by the dominant species. Subsequently, chlorophyll proved more successful than its purple companion.
4. It could be argued that optimally absorbing light (and being purple) is not the most important thing and that there are other aspects of the problem that are more important. Green chlorophyll could be the optimal solution to this more complex problem.
In short, the real answer is … I don’t know. I am not overwhelmingly convinced by any of the above arguments.
If you enjoyed this post you may like to look at my special christmas post on carrots and why they are orange.
Many studies have been carried out over the last 50-100 years to look at which colours people like and which they don’t like. Although there is variability between individuals (not everyone likes the same colours) there is surprising consistency when the results of lots of different studies are compared. In short people like blues and greens and don’t like yellows and (to a lesser extent) reds. The hue parameter is probably the most important but brightness and colourfulness also affect colour preference. People tend to like brighter and more colourful colours than darker and less colourful ones. Just for fun, I have been running my own survey on this web site. You can still add your two-penneth worth if you like – please go to http://colourware.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/favourite-colour-poll/. Interestingly, my fun survey is also in broad agreement with all those previously published experiments. I found that people’s preferences were:
I am not sure what practical application there could be in knowing which colours are more popular. For example, my favourite colour is red but I probably wouldn’t want to buy a red coat. Though on average most people really like blue, this doesn’t mean it would be sensible to make a product blue without consideration of many other factors. In design, colour is almost always in context and that context makes all the difference in the world.
More interesting though is recent research I have read which proposes a reason why there is individual variation in colour preference. According to this idea, we like those colours that remind us of things that we like (we like blue skies and green grass). It could explain dark yellows and oranges are particularly unpopular; these colours are normally associated with some rather unsavoury things (dark orange is the colour of poo and dark yellow the colour of vomit). Further, if people have a strong affiliation with an idea/concept that is strongly associated with a colour, then they may have some preference bias towards that colour. It makes me think – I am a hug fan of Manchester United and red is my favourite colour; but do I like red because I like Manchester United or do I like Manchester United because I like red? I am too old to remember which came first.
Is colour blindness a problem in design? Colour blind is rare amongst females but is very common amongst males. Approximately 8% of all the men in the world have some form of colour blindness. Colour blindness is a bit of a misnomer of colour; most colour-blind people can see colour but confuse colours that so-called normal observers can easily distinguish between. The most common case is red-green colour blindness and such sufferers find it hard to tell reds and greens apart.
But does design take this into account sufficiently? One area where there may be a problem is in the gaming industry. I came across the following comment today where someone is reporting a problem using Call of Duty (a game I don;t play but which I understand is quite popular) on the Xbox. Apparently, the Gamertags of all the players are either green if they are on your team, or red if they are an enemy. Oops!! I wonder how much of a problem this is. The problem is probably greatest when colour is used to convey information (as in this case, friend or enemy) rather just for aesthetics (where the information may be conveyed by contrast alone).
On the 17th March this week it is, of course, St Patrick’s day. The colour green is associated with this day and with the Irish in general. Indeed, as the above picture shows, in Chicago (where there is large Irish contingent) they dye the river green ever year in celebration. However, originally the colour associated with St Patrick was blue. In Irish mythology, the sovereignty of Ireland was represented as a blue robe. St Patrick is said to have used the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to the pre-christian Irish. Wearing a shamrock in your lapel became associated with celebrating St Patrick. In 1798 Irish soldiers adoptedgreen uniforms on March 17 to make a political statement.
When asked which colour is associated with being lucky I often respond with “green”. Green is associated with the Irish and there is a phrase “the luck of the irish”. However, Irish folklore holds that green is the favourite colour of the faeries; they are likely to steal people, especially children, who wear too much of the colour. So, for some Irish at least, green is an unlucky colour. In any event, even if green is associated with good luck in large parts of the western world it is not an idea that is common around the world – in China, for example, it is red that is associated with good luck.
The colour green has become synonymous with protests in Iran. Apparently, the Iranian government has been surprised by the number of protesters (greens) waving their flags in public places making it hard to show pro-government supporters because of all the green. Ihave read reports that they have developed a colour filter that would reduce the amount of green on their TV broadcasts. Does anyone know any more about this?