Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Colour commentary

I've just reworked the design of this blog (well, it's really the culmination of lots of tinkering). While the form has changed, the content remains the same. Perhaps I should follow Ray Deonandan's suggestion and rename my blog Log base 2.0.

Colour me ignorant

In the redesign, I wanted more colour. But colour is trickier than I thought. There's the physics of light, the physiology of the eye, and the way the brain interprets colour information from the eye. On this last point, the Wikipedia page on colour says:
A dominant theory of color vision proposes that color information is transmitted out of the eye by three opponent processes, or opponent channels, each constructed from the raw output of the cones: a red-green channel, a blue-yellow channel and a black-white "luminance" channel. This theory has been supported by neurobiology, and accounts for the structure of our subjective color experience. Specifically, it explains why we cannot perceive a "reddish green" or "yellowish blue," and it predicts the color wheel ...
A guy I know purportedly (though my memory may have embellished a little) once argued that there are "really" only 7 colours. (Oops. It has been estimated that humans are capable of distinguishing several million colors.) I think he was engaged in some kind of battle of the sexes with his girlfriend, who was distinguishing between colours such as coral, salmon, and tomato. In our culture, women seem to be much more attuned to colour than men.

No doubt some would argue that this is due to underlying physiological differences between the sexes. I certainly wouldn't rule out biological factors, but I think culture is a more likely culprit.

Which brings me to another fascinating aspect of colour: its symbolism, associations, and preferences. For example in the west, blue often represents business (think of a dark blue suit), red means passion, purple is the colour of royalty. Green symbolizes environmentalism, but it also traditionally represented envy. But it's not that simple. In Canada blue is the colour of the Conservative party, whereas in the U.S., blue is the colour of the Democrats whereas red is the colour of the more conservative Republicans. Speaking of red, what about "red" China? Well in China, red is the colour brides wear, not the white that is conventional in the west. White, after all, is the colour of funerals in the east. Then there's the whole question of what colours are seen as masculine or feminine, and whether this varies between cultures, and over time.

Multivariate analyses: interactions galore

When more than one colour is involved, things get even more interesting. Consider two instantly recognizable colour pairs—at least in the West: (1) black and orange; (2) red and green. Colour schemes are a staple of graphic design. I think this is because the meanings conveyed by colours, individually and as part of multi-colour schemes, is very powerful and subtle. Visitors to a website often make snap judgments based in part on colour schemes. Gaudy clashing colours may be a clue that the website isn't worth spending time on. Or perhaps it's an avant-garde artsy site? And of course, the word "gaudy" is dripping with cultural assumptions.

Effective colour schemes aren't easy to conjure up. Instead we often rely on default choices, such as those provided by blog templates. In my exploration, I did find one fabulous colour-scheme tool: Adobe's free online site kuler. It lets you create colour schemes (automatically generating complementary colours, analogous colours, etc.) and explore other people's, with entertaining names like "Old Shell Station", "Ugly Accusations", and "Sushi Maki" (one of my favorites).

They certainly weren't going to pick blue!

And finally, in case you were wondering, the 2009 colour of the year, according to Pantone, is
Mimosa. "Mimosa embodies hopefulness and reassurance in a climate of change." Drat! Now I have to redesign my website again.

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Anonymous JR said...

And the take home message is that if you want to ensure that you are representing yourself accurately or reflecting the correct message about yourself to those around you through the colours of your blogspot, clothing, home paint, car, etc you should probably consult with a female. :)

In all seriousness, it's true, colour can say so much about a person, place, thing. It can speak volumes about personality, mood, expectations, etc...and yet it does so in complete silence. Most of the time we are completely unaware of its influence which is both good and bad.

Your blogspot, with this simple colour adjustment, has transformed itself into a more welcoming and warm place while still retaining its masculine, intelligent and thought provoking traits!

8:38 AM, February 25, 2009  
Blogger Nick Barrowman said...

Thanks, much appreciated. For anyone who is using IE 6, I know it's not displaying quite right at the moment. I still have some tinkering to do!

At the risk of sounding pretentious, I'll note that the Latin saying de gustibus non est disputandum (there's no arguing about taste) comes to mind. And yet there clearly are cultural/gender/socioeconomic norms and preferences. Even when we rebel, we tend to do so in rather timid and constrained ways, and for good reason. Standard deviation is one thing, but true outliers are often dealt with harshly. If you know what I mean ...

10:15 AM, February 26, 2009  

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