The psychology of colours
Is colour psychology a science?
As a natural science, colour psychology is a part of the perception psychology. At the centre of the debate are the classic questions of psychophysics, so the laws of the connection between physical stimulus and mental experiences.
Colour metrics (how to measure colours and differences between them and how to mathematically represent that) is part of this area.
Colour psychology interpreted under the viewpoint of the humanities are concerned with semantics and art- and cultural history.
Empirically researching colour psychologists are especially interested in questions concerning the sciences of neurobiology, sociology and the psychology of learning.
- age-, sex-,time and cultural colour preferences (preferred colours, favourite colours)
- interplay between visual perception and the perception of other senses
- interplay between colour perception and the ability to remember or the ability to learn
- influence of colour perception on the assessment of characteristics of ones surroundings
- change in the physical/emotional/mental disposition following colour perception
Especially those topics mentioned last are also interesting to colour designers, because they offer direct aspects important for the design of inside spaces. Hence it is also understandable that in the setting of academic education that teaches knowledge about colour design, the students are often asked to consider the results of research in the fields of natural sciences, to create colour designs free of subjectivism on the basis of “science”, preferably with references to neurophysiology and neurosciences.
Studio Benad also considers research, as long as empirical results are available to us, that can be applied to a specific project. However such research does not only represent a “key” to design for us, but rather an accompanying measure that serves as a means for control rather than as means to find ideas. This critical attitude is due to the method of how psychological research finds results these days: by analysing sets of data statistically. These sets of data consist of effectively the result of questioning a representative amount of people. The researcher is objective towards the opinion of the subjects being researched; the researcher will ideally have a mathematical education, and if he is colour blind, the results of the study are improved even further.
In contrast to that approach, we as colour designers, empathically analyse the effect of colour, we emotionally “dive in” and are affected by it - and from this “being together” with colours we create our designs. Our competence lies in being “on first name terms” with the colour, as Heinrich Frieling called it. There is also a technical term for this approach: Empathy.
If you “feel with” colours with a good amount of self reflection and a systematic approach, one can find a lot of colour-psychology research confirmed. Of course the analytical (statistical) method is nothing else but the experiences that people have with colour. Except that they communicate their “intersubjective” experience to a researcher who then statistically analyses it.
Every colour has different effects, that unfold through the interplay with other colours.
The surface area and the strength of contrast of the colours as well as the amount of time spent in a room can deliver results under the aspect of empathic perception. This knowledge is invaluable especially, because the analytical research always points to the contextual effect of colours: There is not that one colour for an optimal learning environment, to improve alertness or for perfect relaxation - but there are certain colour solutions that are to be preferred in the context of colour effects. Designers with experience in the field of empathic colours obviously have an advantage here.
The results of scientific-analytical studies tend to show that not one specific colour has one specific effect (statement, meaning, physiological reaction), but rather has a way of changing the person perceiving it, making that person view things in a greater perspective.
Colour = Relationship
Clear cause-effect-tables are things of the past; in their place are relationship diagrams and flowcharts and mind-map like structures. The diagram below correlates natural connections of appearance of blue with characteristic (human) activities and characteristics.
and last but not least: What Munich’s election billboards really mean to say…
On the 16th of March 2014 Munich elected a new Mayor. The city was full of colourful billboards, of which you never really knew, at least in quick passing, what or who they exactly stood for and why they were on the side of the road, displayed with such colour intensity. Reason enough for Christopher Griebel from München-TV to ask Martin Benad, what the colours of the billboards could be all about…
Don’t weigh up every word. Make up your own mind!