Tag Archives: green

good reasons to use colour

I just came across this nice article – http://understandinggraphics.com/design/10-reasons-to-use-color/ – entitled 10 reasons to use color.

The article lists 10 good reasons to use colour in design. Number 10 is using colour for metaphor and taking advantage of the associations that are inherent in phrases such as feeling blue or green with envy. There is no doubt about the meaning in the image below; that the woman is filled with envy.

color-for-metaphor

Where is colour mixing?

Imagine that we have three projection lamps at the back of a hall – one has a red filter and so produces a beam of red light, and the other two use filters to produce green and blue beams. We project these onto a white screen and get three circles of light (one, red, one green and one blue). We then move the angles of the projectors so that the circles of light overlap. We get something that looks rather like this:

ColourMixing

Where the red and green light overlap we get yellow. We get magenta and cyan for the other two binary mixtures. So,

red + green = yellow

red + blue = magenta

green + blue = cyan

This is called additive colour mixing as I am sure you know. And if we mix all three primaries we can achieve white (or other neutral colours). The primaries could be single wavelengths of light – so we could use a primary at, say, 700 nm (for the red) and one at 450 nm (blue) and one at 530 nm (green). So green light (530 nm) and red light (700 nm) additively mix together and generate yellow. When this happens what is being mixed and where does this mixing take place? Take a few moments to consider this before reading on.

Notice I said that they additively mix to generate yellow – I specifically avoided saying that they mix to generate yellow light. When I sat down with a couple of students last week and asked then what they though they said that the red and green light mixed together to create yellow light and when I pressed them, they went further to say that the yellow light was at about 575 nm.

visible-a

If we measure the part of the screen that is yellow we would see that we have some light at 700 nm and some at 530 nm. The wavelengths are not mixed; they don’t mix together to generate some third wavelength of light such as 575 nm. So no physical mixing takes place other than – I suppose one could argue – that the red and green lights are mixed in the sense that they are spatially coincident. But that’s not really mixing, for me, and certainly doesn’t even begin to explain why we have the sensation of yellow when we look at these wavelengths together. It also makes me think that additive colour mixing, if it can be said to occur anywhere in particular, occurs in the eye. And I do mean eye, not brain.

Whitehall colour branding

The UK government is set to rebrand its departments with bold new colour schemes. The new colours include lots of blues and greens; for example, navy blue for the Foreign Office, bright blue for the NHS and green for the Department of Energy and Climate Change. However, the The Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which is purple at the moment, is reassigned bright pink.

Read more here.

The Incredible Grey Hulk

When I was young I used to read Marvel comics. My favourites were Spiderman and The Fantastic Four but I also liked the Hulk and Thor. When I was about 10 (in about 1972) I even had this idea of designing a wrist band that could shoot out web like spiderman. What I needed was a substance that would flow (as a liquid) when it was shot out but then quickly solidified to create the web. I noticed that polystyrene turned liquid under heat and I started to build a prototype. Sadly it never worked. But I often wonder if this incident sparked my interest in chemistry, an interest that led me to study Colour Chemistry at Leeds University in 1983 and finally to my lifelong passion for colour.

I just came across a story that the Hulk was not green in the original comic strip versions. He was grey!! Apparently, in The Hulk’s debut (May 1962, a few days after I was born) Lee chose grey for the Hulk because he wanted a colour that did not suggest any particular ethnic group. The chap in charge of the colour, Stan Goldberg, however, had problems with the grey; colour management was not what it is now and this resulted in several different shades of grey, and even green, in the first issue! Given the colour problems, Lee chose to change the skin colour to green. What a shocker! Next, I’ll probably find out that Spiderman was not real!!

traffic lights for everyone

About 8% of men are colour blind. In the past I have written about how designers may not adequately take this into account effectively ignoring 4% of the population. I also wrote about how in Korea the problem of traffic lights for colour blind people was being addressed by using different shapes for the different colours.

Now I am interested to hear about a development from Japan – Professor Ochiai at Kyushu Sangyo University has developed a clever modification that is not noticed by people with normal colour vision but helps those who are colour blind. Before the introduction of LED lights people often could tell red from green by the difference in brightness. But LED lights are so bright that they look rather similar in brightness, and for someone with red-green colour blindness they may look identical. Professor Ochiai has added a blue cross to the red light which is very visible to colour-blind observers but can hardly be noticed by the rest of us. Very clever!!

The new lights are being tested in Fukuoka and are due to go on test in Tokyo soon.

Why not green?

I am a scientist working in a design school who researches colour. I sometimes get frustrated by the simplistic view of colour and its use in branding, marketing and advertising pervades the internet (where anyone can be an expert). People often misinterpret my own work and imagine that all sorts of simplistic ideas stem from my research. So, for example, imagine that there is a company (that is aiming to deliver sustainable and environmentally responsible power) that is looking to brand itself and also imagine that my research reveals that the colour green is associated with the environment and nature. Typically people may say (or imagine that I would say) that it is obvious that the company should use the colour green as the basis of its branding strategy. However, this is a very simplistic view and one that I certainly don’t subscribe to.

When a company is constructing a branding strategy one has to consider many facets of the branding and marketing. What is the proposition that the company is making? How can colour support that or help to communicate it? A company may, for example, even may an ironic statement where it chooses colours and imagery that is the opposite of what it really stands for, just as an example. I quite enjoyed reading a post today by thebrandsquad that gave quite an intelligent and thoughtful analysis of colour in branding (using a case study rather like the fictitious example I refer to above).

See also Greenwashing – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenwashing

why are leaves green?

Why are leaves green? The most obvious answer is that they contain green pigments, the most abundant being chlorophyll and that chlorophyll absorbs the short and long wavelengths in the visible spectrum leaving the middle wavelengths to be reflected and scattered. However, the deeper question is why should chlorophyll absorb in the short and long wavelengths of the visible spectrum when there is more light available in the middle of the spectrum?

The spectral irradiance of sunlight varies with the time of day, the weather conditions, the time of year, and the latitude/longitude. However, I think it would be reasonable to say that by and large, in most situations, the peak irradiance is in the middle of the spectrum (that which we would normally associate with being green and yellow).

So if one assumes that evolution has produced a perfect engineering solution to this aspect of nature in particular then I think one may expect plants to absorb mainly in the middle part of the spectrum (and this would result in the bluish and reddish wavelengths being reflected and a purplish colour).

So why don’t we have a chlorophyll equivalent that is purple? I have come across a number of arguments.

1. One could go further and say that if a plant wanted to be really efficient it would absorb all wavelengths of the visible spectrum and would therefore appear black. So black, rather than purple, would be the perfect engineering solution. Given that most plants are neither black nor purple then I think we can assume that evolution did not find the perfect engineering problem or that the problem is more complex than we think. For example, it could be that a plant that is black would absorb too much light and overheat. Or it could be that chlorophyll evolved from some earlier light-sensitive chemical and that genetic mutations could lead more easily to chlorophyll than to purple or black pigments.

2. Taking this point further, I have heard it suggested that most plants evolved from earlier plants that lived under water and that absorbed mainly short wavelengths of light (long wavelengths – red – cannot penetrate much more than 1 m of water). These earlier cousins of the modern plant would most likely have been brownish. Indeed, if one looks today ay plants in seawater, green plants are only seen on the surface or at very low depths. So the ancestor of chlorophyll could have been a brown pigment which mutated into green chlorophyll more easily than it could have mutated into a purple pigment.

3. I have also come across the ‘early purple earth’ hypothesis. This suggests that originally most plant life on land was indeed optimally purple and that chlorophyll absorbed to take advantage of those wavelengths that were not already being gobbled up by the dominant species. Subsequently, chlorophyll proved more successful than its purple companion.

4. It could be argued that optimally absorbing light (and being purple) is not the most important thing and that there are other aspects of the problem that are more important. Green chlorophyll could be the optimal solution to this more complex problem.

In short, the real answer is … I don’t know. I am not overwhelmingly convinced by any of the above arguments.

If you enjoyed this post you may like to look at my special christmas post on carrots and why they are orange.

preferred colours

Many studies have been carried out over the last 50-100 years to look at which colours people like and which they don’t like. Although there is variability between individuals (not everyone likes the same colours) there is surprising consistency when the results of lots of different studies are compared. In short people like blues and greens and don’t like yellows and (to a lesser extent) reds. The hue parameter is probably the most important but brightness and colourfulness also affect colour preference. People tend to like brighter and more colourful colours than darker and less colourful ones. Just for fun, I have been running my own survey on this web site. You can still add your two-penneth worth if you like – please go to http://colourware.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/favourite-colour-poll/. Interestingly, my fun survey is also in broad agreement with all those previously published experiments. I found that people’s preferences were:

blue 19%
green 19%
purple 14%
red 11%
orange 8%
yellow 8%
pink 8%
black 4%
grey 4%
white 3%
brown 1%
other 1%

I am not sure what practical application there could be in knowing which colours are more popular. For example, my favourite colour is red but I probably wouldn’t want to buy a red coat. Though on average most people really like blue, this doesn’t mean it would be sensible to make a product blue without consideration of many other factors. In design, colour is almost always in context and that context makes all the difference in the world.

More interesting though is recent research I have read which proposes a reason why there is individual variation in colour preference. According to this idea, we like those colours that remind us of things that we like (we like blue skies and green grass). It could explain dark yellows and oranges are particularly unpopular; these colours are normally associated with some rather unsavoury things (dark orange is the colour of poo and dark yellow the colour of vomit). Further, if people have a strong affiliation with an idea/concept that is strongly associated with a colour, then they may have some preference bias towards that colour. It makes me think – I am a hug fan of Manchester United and red is my favourite colour; but do I like red because I like Manchester United or do I like Manchester United because I like red? I am too old to remember which came first.

colour blind designers?

Is colour blindness a problem in design? Colour blind is rare amongst females but is very common amongst males. Approximately 8% of all the men in the world have some form of colour blindness. Colour blindness is a bit of a misnomer of colour; most colour-blind people can see colour but confuse colours that so-called normal observers can easily distinguish between. The most common case is red-green colour blindness and such sufferers find it hard to tell reds and greens apart.

 

But does design take this into account sufficiently? One area where there may be a problem is in the gaming industry. I came across the following comment today where someone is reporting a problem using Call of Duty (a game I don;t play but which I understand is quite popular) on the Xbox. Apparently, the Gamertags of all the players are either green if they are on your team, or red if they are an enemy. Oops!! I wonder how much of a problem this is. The problem is probably greatest when colour is used to convey information (as in this case, friend or enemy) rather just for aesthetics (where the information may be conveyed by contrast alone).