Image from The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation
Everyone may be talking about green, but Iris Blue and Royal Lilac are the colors of this season. Each year, Pantone puts out a list of the colors they predict will be painted on walls and making up logos everywhere. But a few good guesses or the power of suggestion cannot set the tone of a year’s color swatch. When it comes down to it, color is subjective, based on personal associations and clichés. Where a person lives, their history, culture, and even their language can affect how their perception is colored by. . .well, color.
Going back to green, it takes on a variance of symbolic cultural hues: from “go” to the environment, from freshness to Kermit the Frog, from envy to the alleged aphrodisiac qualities of the green M&M. Ask anyone what the difference is between “Kermit the Frog” green and “green light” green, and you’ll probably get a different answer every time. This reiterates the idea of color being subjective, but does not undermine its power to paint outcomes and opinions.
According to the Institute of Color Research, individuals make a subconscious judgment about a person, environment, or object within 90 seconds, and that between 62 percent and 90 percent is based on color alone. Take the current elections into consideration. More often than not, the candidates will be dressed in red, white and blue. This is not related to those being the national colors, as much as it is because this particular combination is seen as powerful and presidential. In fact, when the Continental Congress designed the flag, they did not know why those colors appealed to them, either. George Washington said, "We take the stars from Heaven, the red from our mother country, separating it by white stripes, thus showing that we have separated from her, and the white stripes shall go down to posterity representing Liberty." Fundamentally, the white stars on the blue background represent a new constellation, or new country, separate from the British, or the Reds. However, no specific symbolism for red, white and blue has ever been determined. And technically, while the red on the flag may be Pantone color 193 C, few people other than you and me actually know that.
Regardless of our confusing relationship with color, and why one shade of red means one thing to one person, and another to their best friend, the importance of color in design and advertising cannot be ignored. Choosing the right palette for our clients is critical to their success. And as color experts, our color sense can truly make sense. Just because the color chartreuse is on the loose at Ikea this year doesn't mean we want to blindly follow the masses. That is unless chartreuse reflects our client's values, audience, message, business in general and a host of other factors. Also have you noticed - color is a bit shifty in nature. It can take on different hues depending on variables like lighting, printing substrates, online applications, etc.. The possibilities for color combinations in design are truly endless. Entire websites have been established to share combinations seen in media and in the mind’s eye of designers. Two of these sites are Kuler and Colour Lovers.
Additionally, if you’re in the Orlando area and want a closer look at how color affects design and reflects a time period, then the Josef Albers exhibit at Rollins College's Cornell Fine Arts Museum is worth checking out. During the 1940’s, Albers studied the chromatic interactions between colors using concentrically arranged squares. The exhibit runs through January 4, 2008.