Category Archives: culture

What colour is your office?

Decorating-GOMIX-new-office-2

I just saw an interesting article by Kim Lachance Shandrow about how the colour of your office can affect productivity. The article refers to a paper (2007) in Color Research and Application (CRA) by Nancy Kwallek entitled Work week productivity, visual complexity, and individual environmental sensitivity in three offices of different color interiors. The paper suggests that the influences of interior colours on worker productivity were dependent upon individuals’ stimulus screening ability and time of exposure to the interior colours. CRA is a top quality academic journal that is peer reviewed and so I am respectful of the findings.

However, in Kim’s online article there is a lot of stuff that I am highly sceptical about. For example, she writes that “Red … increases the heart rate and blood flow upon sight.” Is this true? Is there really any evidence for this. I have two PhD students working in this area right now and I am far from sure that colour does affect heart rate and, if it does, the effects are probably tiny. And yet we can read statements like this all over the internet as if it is a fact beyond doubt. Other things she says that I take with a pinch of salt is that “green does not cause eye fatigue” and that “yellow triggers innovation.” Don’t get me wrong – I am very interested in how colour can be used to affect us emotionally, psychologically and behaviourally; it’s just there is a danger that if some things are said often enough (such as red increases your blood pressure or heart rate) then people start believing them even though there may be little evidence.

That said, you might find the infographic fun and it is well done. See the original and full article here.

Do women use more colour names than men?

I just came across this funny cartoon about the difference between men and women in terms of colour names.

doghouse_color_wheel_altered

But on the same page I found the results from an actual colour survey where over five million colours were named across 222,500 user sessions. One aspect of the results is shown below:

doghouse_analysis

It does seem that there is some evidence that women use more colour names than men – though generally there was agreement between how the names were used. For further details see the original article.

Press coverage of #TheDress

Whatever anyone thinks about the colour of dress and the attention it is received there is one undeniable fact – this story had received huge attention from the public and from the media. That in itself is probably more interesting than the debate itself.

The Daily Mirror story covered the angle that we are all right whatever we see because colour exists only in our heads. According to Dr Paul Knox, a reader from the University of Liverpool’s department of Eye and Vision Science, “Colour isn’t something that exists in the world. Different wavelengths of light exist and can be observed but colour is something we make up inside our heads.”

ITV also took the view that the explanation is that colour doesn’t exist. I broadly agree with this view, but the interesting thing is that that doesn’t explain why there was so much disagreement about the colour in this particular case whilst normally we barely notice any disagreement. If it is simply that colour doesn’t exist then why do we ever agree about colour at all?

On the other hand, in the Guardian an article by Bevil Conway considers cognitive processes in our colour vision and visual strategies that may vary from one person to the next. Of course, Bevil Conway is a super scientist and I agree with almost everything he says. Certainly, cognitive strategies could have something to do with this phenomenon. However, when he says that “By accident or design, the dress is a carefully created composition of orange and blue that confounds our visual systems,” I have to disagree. If you look at a properly taken photograph of the dress or the dress itself in real life what you see is shown below:

dress_original

The dress is not a carefully crafted composition of orange and blue – the dress is blue and black. However, Bevil is probably talking about the image that was circulated not the one shown above. To understand this phenomenon you need to understand colour imaging and the fact that colour images are sometimes not faithful reproductions. One of the reasons why this story has run and run is that there is no simple answer, no 10-second soundbite that can put the story to bed. It is a complicated phenomenon.

colour and language

One of the things that #TheDress controversy has highlighted is that colour is not as fixed as the majority of people believe. We tend to think that objects have a single colour and that we all see that colour the same way. However, in the image below you can see two central grey patches that are physically identical but probably look different in colour to you. My experience is that the majority of people would explain this as the two grey patches being the same colour but looking different in colour because of the background. An illusion.

90

I don’t agree with this way of thinking however. The colours we see when we look at something do depend upon the other colours around it but this is not a a special case. It’s not unusual, as Tom Jones would say. It’s how colour works. If it is an illusion then it’s happening all of the time, almost whenever you are looking at colour. So what is the real colour of something? Is it even sensible talk about an object having a single fixed real colour?

There is a body of research emerging that suggests that the language that we use influences how we see things. Jules Davidoff, a Professor at Goldsmiths University, went to Namibia where he conducted an experiment with the Himba tribe, who speak a language that has no word for blue or distinction between blue and green. When shown a circle with 11 green squares and one blue, they couldn’t pick out which one was different from the others. But the Himba have more words for types of green than we do in English. When looking at a circle of green squares with only one slightly different shade, they could immediately spot the different one, even when the difference was so small that we would find it very difficult to see the odd one out. See below for an example.

davidoff

In the image above – a screenshot from one of Davidoff’s experiments – the Himba tribe can easily see that the green patch at about 1 o’clock is different from the others.

In fact, some people even think that in ancient times we could not see blue at all because we had no word for it. In the Odyssey, Homer famously describes the “wine-dark sea.” But why “wine-dark” and not deep blue or green? It turns out that most ancient languages (including Greek, Chinese, Japanese and Hebrew) did not have a word for blue. Does this mean that they didn’t see blue? Is blue a relatively modern phenomenon? There is a thought-provoking article about this by Kevin Loria at Business Insider. Read more here.

final word on the dress

Yesterday, I posted about The Dress that people see as either blue and black or white and gold. Following several radio and telephone interviews I wanted to have a final attempt to explain what is happening with the dress. It is quite an extraordinary phenomenon – yesterday the dress looked blue and black to me but my PhD student (looking at the same dress on the same screen) said it looked whitish and gold. When I came home last night and looked at the photo on my mac book, the same image that had looked decidedly blue and black to me before now looked whitish and gold. So what is happening?

The first thing is that it is nothing to do with the dress. The problem is with the photo of the dress. I believe that anyone looking at the dress in real life would certainly call it blue and black and also anyone looking at the manufacturer’s photo of the dress would also call it blue and black.

The second thing is that there is more than one phenomenon going on. The reasons why my PhD student and I saw different colours in my office may be a little different from the reasons why I saw it one colour on my pc in my office during the day and another colour during the evening on my mac. So, although people might like a simple answer and a soundbite, in my opinion the explanation is necessarily a little detailed. But I will try to avoid too much technical jargon below.

The camera does lie
I think many people believe that when they take a photograph and put in on the internet and people look at, what people are seeing is a faithful rendition of the original scene. People take this for granted, I believe, without giving it much thought. Unfortunately, this is not guaranteed. There are many reasons why the colour someone might look at in an image might not be the same one that was in the original scene. Different cameras capture colour in different ways depending upon the type of camera, the settings on the camera, and the light under which the image is taken, to name just three factors. In The Dress image, the image looks over-exposed and the colours are washed out. The black is quite pale and has a colour tint and the blue is very washed out and insipid. Hopefully you can see where this is going already.

Different displays show colour differently
You can put the same image on a PC, a mac, a smart phone and a tablet and look at it. The colours will probably not be identical. Reds will probably be red and blues will be blue. But the colours are likely to be not exactly the same on the different devices. If you are looking at your screen from an angle, the colours may change radically. Also, if you are looking at your screen in bright sunlight the colours may look more washed out – though some smart phones and tablets try to ‘intelligently’ correct for this which might make the problem better or worse. The fact that I saw the colours differently in my office than at home could be due to differences in the devices I was using or could be due to the lightening environment, The lighting in my office is quite different to that in my home, for example.

People see colour differently – a little bit
About 1 in 12 men are colour blind. Very few women are afflicted. But even for the rest of us – so-called normal observers – there is variability in our colour vision. One factor for this could be that there are known to be differences in our eyes from person to person. This effect could be small but may be a factor in this story. More important is probably the fact that if sit in a dark room for a while and get used to the dark our vision will be different to it would be if we were outside in bright sunshine. This so-called ‘adaption’ is one way our visual systems deal effectively with such a wide range of brightness from dark rooms to brightly illuminated outdoor scenes. Someone coming into a room from outside (where the sun and sky are very bright) might very well see different colours on the screen than some who had been in the room for a much longer period. These adaption factors are well known in science.

People don’t always agree on colour names
There are at least 3 million different colours in the world. How many colour names can you think of that we could broadly agree on? Words like, blue, black, red etc. There are others like beige and taupe where we might agree less well. But include these and how many do you have? 30? 50? 100? And these names have to cover 3 million colours!! So each name is a category that covers quite a large range of colours. Last year I published a paper where we gradually moved a colour from yellow to green and asked people to tell us when the colour went from yellow to green. Not surprisingly, the point at which people told us the name changed varied from person to person. So there are some colours that some people will call yellow and other people will call green. Correspondingly, just because two people are calling a colour by different names does not necessarily mean that they are seeing it as a different colour.

My final explanation
Variabilities in displays, viewing conditions, observers and colour-naming boundaries can cause disagreement in how to name colours. Normally, this would not shift a black to a gold or a blue to a white. However, in this case, the image that has caused the controversy is not a faithful reproduction of the original. Because of the way the image was taken the black has shifted considerably away from the centre of the category that we would call black. And likewise for the blue. In my office today I would still call it black. But it was not a strong convincing black. It was a little pale and had a bit of colour in it. To be honest, I could understand why someone else might call it gold. The colour was on the boundary between black and gold and now differences between people could cause it to be classified as one colour or the other. When I came home, the colours had shifted for me. I don’t think my colour naming boundaries had shifted. Rather, I think this was to do with the lighting I was viewing the colour in, or the screen (a mac rather than my pc) or the angle I was viewing my screen at. Any or all of these factors could have shifted the colour so that it passed from the category I call black to the one that I would call gold.

Maybe the surprising thing is that these controversies do not happen more. Colour imaging scientists have been phenomenally successful in delivering colour imaging devices that satisfy consumers. Part of this work is done at the University of Leeds where I work but there are other places around the world who make great contributions including RIT in Rochester USA. And then there are some super bright scientists in places like Samsung, Apple, HP and LG who have worked hard to understand the complexities of colour perception and colour communication to the extent that people barely even think about these issues. However, there is more work to be done. Colour is still a major factor in people being dissatisfied when they buy something over the internet. When the product arrives it is sometimes not the colour they expected it to be. And colour fidelity is still not good enough for many medical applications. If you want to get involved in colour science please contact me. My email is s.westland@leeds.ac.uk and you can also find me @stephenwestland

guess what – red is sexy

red is sexy
Guess what? Another article that concludes that women wearing red are more likely to attract a mate. Scientist claims women are reflecting their sexual intentions ‘from the beginning’ by wearing bright red clothing. It’s a shocker!!! Who would have thought it!

It must be true because I read it in the Daily Mail.

Colour and Manchester United

van gaal

It’s not often I get to write about two of my favourite things at the same time. So I couldn’t resist remarking on a story today in the Daily Mirror about a colour code that Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal uses to describe different players in his squad. Apparently:

Blue:
“A blue player is intellectual and is always looking for structure and security in his job on the pitch.”

Red:
“A red player is creative, full of power, will want to work and is always focusing on the future.”

Green:
“A green player is very emotional, sensitive for different emotions or a different atmosphere in the squad.”

See the original article for the colours that the newspaper thinks that different players should be be allocated.

colour and branding

mcdonalds

According to Jon Feagain colour affects brand development in five ways:

    It helps boost perception

    It attracts attention

    It can help to emphasise or conceal information

    It can help you appeal to the right audience

    It can can help the audience digest information better

I think all of these things are true. However, to make the right decisions a good understanding of colour semiotics is critical in my opinion. Achieving that is easier said than done.

different views of Leeds

Leeds

This year I hosted two Italian students as part of a European project. Silvia and Enrico both had the most fantastic design skills and both undertook projects about how to promote or represent a city – in their case, the city of Leeds where I work at the University of Leeds.

Here are two videos they produced at the end of their work here.

And here is a small diary about their time here in Leeds – http://colourdocks.wordpress.com/