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    Engaging the Eye Through Color

Engaging the Eye Through Color

Humans are highly visual beings. Although we may take this for granted, colors play a major role in how we feel and evaluate stimulus that we encounter each and every day. In fact, how color affects people as individuals and within groups is known as color theory; a science in its own respect. How we experience color can be highly subjective as it can depend on personal preferences. A study that investigated the most popular pigment found blue to be the most favored color in the world. Apparently, 40 percent of the global sample chose blue to be their favorite shade.

Caption: Various samplings of the color blue, the most popular color in the world.

Purple ranked second best at 17 percent (reference). Interestingly, color meaning can also vary widely from one culture to the next. Guess which is the color of passion in Western culture but the color of mourning in others? The answer: Red. While yellow symbolize cheery optimism according to your average American, to others it is the shade of cowardice or jealousy.

Color and coordination strongly influence our decisions. Web, interior and graphic designers (to name only a few) manipulate shades to elicit certain desired responses within others. Color theory simplifies this task by explaining how different colors interact with each other. In other words, what visual effects will a certain shade have when placed beside another? Being familiar with color theory is essential to establish a specific visual effect, create an adequate brand image and attract the right clientele.

The visionary and scientist Sir Isaac Newton is most famous for his contribution towards the theory of gravity. However, few people know of his influence with regards to color theory. Newton ingeniously invented the color wheel in 1666, the first model which successfully deals with colors and their complicated dynamics.

The wheel is still considered the most useful tool invented so far with regards to understanding how to combine hues harmoniously. Still taught in color theory classes and widely used by designers, Newton’s wheel helps us to understand why certain shades make more sense together than others. It also separates shades into three categories:

primary colors
the only colors that cannot be formed using other colors and that form all other shades
(red, blue, yellow)

secondary colors
colors that can only exist by mixing primary colors
(orange, green and violet)

tertiary colors
colors that can only exist by mixing primary and secondary colors
(red orange, yellow orange, yellow green, blue green, blue violet and red violet)

Click here for a more comprehensive list of colors and their meaning across different cultures.

In 1782, Moses Harris designed his own color wheel using Newton’s format for inspiration.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe reinterprets the wheel once more in 1810.

By properly using the color wheel, a sense of harmony, interest, repulsion or attraction can be instilled in the eye of the beholder. Harmonious colors can create a sense of balance whereas clashing shades can almost be painful to look at. For example, Renault used the color red to induce feelings of power, passion and intensity.

Green is universally used to create feelings of harmony and balance with nature. The image below uses the color to discuss green energy and ways to reconnect with the environment while being eco-friendly.

Tame colors such as beige, white and black are used to imply sophistication. Black can be seen as mysterious and sexy whereas white universally symbolizes purity, simplicity and cleanliness. This design website uses contrast both colors to create a clean and elegant platform for its clients.

This is just a sample of how some colors can be used to achieve certain specific effects. Whatever look or aesthetic you are trying to capture, make sure to select a harmonious collection of colors. If you fail to do so, you risk miscommunication with the viewer and potentially pushing away the very same people you need to make your business and image thrive. Explore the world of color theory and meanings to say what you have to say loud and proud.

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