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June 24, 2010

How We “See” Color

There’s a reason why we shy away from using red in website design or why we spend hours selecting a brand palette. Color has a dramatic impact on emotion, message and memory. It’s also not the same for all organisms – just ask your beloved dog or cat – states a recent “colorful” article posted on CNN.com

Heidi Strand, Brand Talk“Violets are blue and roses are red, but maybe those colors are all in your head,” writes Elizabeth Landau. Her whimsical take on an old favorite saying has some truth according to recent research. In fact, color research has many areas of study, including color associations and their impact on emotions, perceptions and preferences. The article featured some interesting findings:

  • Blue may be a common favorite color because it signals such positive things as clear skies.
  • Yellow-green tends to be generally disliked, perhaps because it signals toxicity.
  • A recent study from Palmer’s lab that appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that participants’ color preferences nearly perfectly corresponded with how much they liked objects of the same color.

It was this last bullet that really got me thinking and caused my philosophical side to take over.

While color theory is truly fascinating … I was more inspired by a color metaphor: How we “see” color is much like how we “see” the rest of the world … through our own eyes.

Through our own perceptions, experiences and beliefs, we extract a view of what we believe to be true and accurate. When in all actuality, one person may be seeing red and another seeing blue.

I find that most people speak with authority on what is right versus wrong, moral versus amoral, ethical versus unethical. And, yet how do we really know?

My rods and cones are different than a bee’s; we see the flower completely differently.

Yes, it is still a flower. (At least in this reality it is.) But, how we see that flower is no less right for me than it is for my four-legged best friend or the pollinating garden wonder.

That’s just how I see it.