Category Archives: culture

Digitizing Traditional Cultural Designs

A bojagi is a traditional Korean wrapping cloth.

There is currently interest in re-using traditional and cultural designs in modern commercial applications. The bojagi is one of these traditional designs that could be reinvented and hence reinvigorated. But how can a designer create bojagi patterns for use in new digital design?

Working with Meong Jin Shin I developed a software tool that can create a wide range of different bojagi. We identified 8 different classes of traditional bojagi as shown below:

We then created a software tool that would allow a user to create new bojagi which would have the same visual characteristics as one of these 8 traditional classes.

We had some designers in Korea evaluate the tool and they were quite impressed. Although in this study we worked with Bojagi, in fact we were interested in exploring the general method of using digital tools such as this one to allow users to explore traditional designs and to use them in their contemporary design work. The ideas could be easily extended to cover other traditional designs such as tartan. The software could also be added to a package such as Adobe Photoshop as a plug-in.

You can read the full paper that we published here.

Shin MJ & Westland S, 2017. Digitizing traditional cultural designs, The Design Journal, 20 (5), 639-658.

UK favourite car colours

The top three favourite car colours in the UK in 2016 were white, black and grey (in that order). White has been the best seeing colour for four years which is interesting because it never used to be popular in the UK. Car salesman used to refer to the colour as three-week white because it took three weeks longer to sell a white car compared with other colours. But it’s 10 years now since a chromatic colour was number 1.

For further details see here.

red rage in schools


Staff at a primary school in Dundee want to change the colour of the uniform because they think the red colour could affect children’s behaviour. According to the Headmistress Gillian Knox:

‘Red is often used to energise body and mind, and some research indicates that it can increase heart and breathing rates. [This is] not the calm, relaxed learning state we hope to achieve. A recent study linked red to impaired performance on achievement tasks.’

Pupils currently wear a bright red jumper or cardigan with grey trousers or skirt. But teachers want there to be only ‘small amounts’ of red – such as in the school tie.

However, although statements such as this – that red raises heart rates – are all over the red and often cited as facts (as in ‘everybody knows’) in fact there is very little evidence that looking at red can affect heart rates. We ran a study at University of Leeds last year and found no statistically significant effect of the colour of light on subjects’ heart rates or on their blood pressure. A review of the literature reveals little evidence: there is a PhD thesis from California from about 1950 that nobody can get hold off and a study with mentally handicapped children in the 80s. That’s it. Light certainly affects us physiologically but it is far from fact that red raises blood pressure.

What colour is your city?


I came across an interesting blog by Tom Wolley – a freelance illustrator based in West Yorkshire who specialises in illustrated maps and hand lettering – who developed an illustrated colour may of Leeds (which happens to be where I live). What is particularly interesting is that Tom describes his process somewhat. It is well worth looking at and I think his final design (shown above) is rather nice. The yellows and blues are derived from the classical colours of Leeds and Yorkshire although somewhat more muted.

It makes me think. Are certain colours associated with places? Or even with districts? A recent paper by Willem Coetzee and Norbert Haydam at CAUTH 2016 (The Changing Landscape of Tourism and Hospitality: The Impact of Emerging Markets and Emerging Destinations) looked at this. Their paper was called – Colour association test as a target market analysis technique at an emerging destination – an exploratory study. They used colour association as a market analysis technique to measure tourism demand in a small town. The results indicated that different segments of the market had different associations of colour for the same destination.

Colour: Art and Science


I run a module at the University of Leeds called Colour: Art and Science. For me colour is a classic meta-discipline and understanding of colour requires and appreciation of ideas from lots of different academic fields. So I like to present a very multi-disciplinary perspective of colour and I have students enrol from all sorts of different departments in the University which is a lot of fun. One of the main reasons I run this blog is as a resource for those students.

So I was interested to just come across this Brief History of Colour in Art by Sarah Gottesman which covers some of the same stuff that I talk about.

In the same vein I came across this discussion by @CINEMAPALETTES about cinema colour palettes that shows how colours are used to set the mood of iconic films.

what colour is your passport?

passport colours

Whenever I am travelling to a conference and standing in a line at an airport it seems to me that everyone has either a burgundy passport like me or a red one if the are from USA. It turns out that most passports really are the same colour as this great infographic shows. Well, one of only about four colours so it seems. It’s interesting the way they are grouped; I wonder why Africa tends to use green or black. For the full story see. here.

why people have started to buy brown cars again


Interesting article by Ian Johnston in The Independent today about consumer colour choices for second-hand cars in the UK. Bucking the recent preference for silver, black and whit, the top 10 list of colour schemes includes green, beige, yellow and gold – colours that we associate with the 70s.

Please see the original article for further information.

I like pink


Pink is one of my favourite colours. Generally, however, if you ask people what their favourite colour is, the most frequent response is blue irrespective of gender, age or culture. Adults, that is. Because most young girls prefer pink. There is a huge commercial machine that pushes girls towards pink and boys towards blue. I support the Pink Stinks campaign which I blogged about in 2009, but I fear its chances of success are slender.

In my 2009 I linked to a BBC article that noted that pink for girls and blue for boys was not always the case. People cite the Ladies’ Home Journal from 1918 saying:

There has been a great diversity of opinion on the subject, but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger colour is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.

For some reason I always thought that it was the association of blue with the British Navy in the first world war that started the association of blue with boys. But today I read an article that suggests that the association did not start until the 1950s!! Apparently in 1927, Time magazine surveyed 10 major departments stores across the country about how each store associated pink and blue with boys and girls. The results showed that most children dressed in gender-neutral clothing and typically wore white because it was easy to bleach and keep clean. It wasn’t until the 1950s that pink became a female colour according to Estelle Caswell. Read all of what Estelle had to say here.

Egyptian Blue – the first synthetic pigment

1.78x1.17, 600 dpi scan

The first synthetic pigment – Egyptian Blue – was made by the Egyptians around 4500 years ago. A technique developed by scientists at the British Museum has allowed them to discover traces of Egyptian blue on ancient objects that no longer have their original paint finishes intact. Before the Egyptians learned how to make a synthetic blue pigment from sand and copper the main blue pigment was obtained from the mineral lapis lazuli, first found in Afghanistan about 4500 BC. Extracting blue from lapis lazuli was extremely expensive.

Blue remained an expensive pigment however and came to symbolise truth, peace, virtue and authority in fine art. Images of Mary usually showed her wearing a blue robe. Blue was used for symbolic reasons. Cheaper blue pigments became widely available in the modern era of synthetic pigments.

Further details can be found here.