How the Eye Sees Color

Color originates in light. Sunlight, as we perceive it, is colorless. In reality, a rainbow is testimony to the fact that all the colors of the spectrum are present in white light. As illustrated in the diagram below, light goes from the source (the sun) to the object (the apple), and finally to the detector (the eye and brain).

Diagram of how the eye sees color

1. All the" invisible" colors of sunlight shine on the apple.

2. The surface of a red apple absorbs all the colored light rays, except for those corresponding to red, and reflects this color to the human eye.

3. The eye receives the reflected red light and sends a message to the brain.

The most technically accurate definition of color is:
"Color is the visual effect that is caused by the spectral composition of the light emitted, transmitted, or reflected by objects."


The human eye can see 7,000,000 colors. Some of these are eyesores. Certain colors and color relationships can be eye irritants, cause headaches, and wreak havoc with human vision. Other colors and color combinations are soothing. Consequently, the appropriate use of color can maximize productivity, minimize visual fatigue, and relax the whole body.

Which color is the worst offender?

Yellow, pure bright lemon yellow is the most fatiguing color. Why? The answer comes from the physics of light and optics. More light is reflected by bright colors, resulting in excessive stimulation of the eyes. Therefore, yellow is an eye irritant. Babies cry more in yellow rooms, husbands and wives fight more in yellow kitchens, and opera singers throw more tantrums in yellow dressing rooms. Be careful how you use it. In practical application, do not paint the walls of a critical task environment yellow. Also, do not use yellow legal pads (but it will give you a jolt and temporarily wake your brain up), and do not use yellow as a background on your computer monitor.


On the other hand, since yellow is the most visible color of all the colors, it is the first color that the human eye notices. Use it to get attention, such as a yellow sign with black text, or as an accent. Have you noticed yellow fire engines in some cities?

Finally, yellow is a wonderful color, the most cheerful of the spectrum. And yellow is a symbol of the deity in many global religions.

Some tips for practical application:
Notice the difference between a yellow of the purest intensity and a softer tint. Also the size of the area that any color occupies determines the color effect. For best results, use softer tints of the hue or small quantities. A little bit of color goes a long ways.


See red?

Perhaps you've used this phrase to mean that you're so angry that you literally see red. Here's a test to see if you really see red. And it will be a bit of magic because you will see the invisible.

1. Make sure the image below fills your computer screen.
2. Look at the image at a distance of 12 inches or 30 centimeters from the screen.
3. Stare at the black dot in the middle of the red rectangle for 30 seconds. Keep your focus on the black dot or the test will not work.
4. After 30 seconds, shift your focus to the black dot in the middle of the white rectangle. Once again, you must focus on the black dot in the middle of the white square or this will not work.


see red test


Did you see red? What did you see?

You are not hallucinating. You saw an "after image" and there is a very scientific explanation for it: Your eye is filled with 250,000 color decoding cones. The 83,000 cones that are used to decode red became fatigued and over stimulated when you focused on the red rectangle. Consequently, the opposing cones kicked into action. You probably saw blue or bluish green, somewhat like transparent bluish light or cellophane on the white area. (If you saw nothing, reread the instructions and take the test again.)

The operation of the eye is largely muscular and any excessive activity will tire it out.

Here are some practical examples:
Let's assume that you work on an assembly line and sort red pills 8 hours a day. If the work surface is white, you'll fatigue the eyes and get an after image. If you use a soft muted teal as the work surface color, you'll maximize visual efficiency. "After image" will occur with any color. Imagine what would happen if you were in a monochromatic blue interior. Which color would your eyes be hungry for?


What happens when chickens see red?

A company* that markets red contact lenses for chickens (at 20 cents a pair), points to medical studies showing that chickens wearing red-tinted contact lenses behave differently from birds that don't. They eat less, produce more and don't fight as much. This decreases aggressive tendencies and birds are less likely to peck at each other causing injury. A spokesman said the lenses will improve world egg-laying productivity by $600 million a year.

(Perhaps everything looks red and they cannot distinguish combs, wattles, or blood. Or ...perhaps the chickens are happier because they're viewing the world through rose colored glasses.)

* Animalens Inc. of Wellesley, Mass
If you don't believe this, read the facts! Click here.

Here's a second test. Once again, follow the same instructions:

1. Make sure the image below fills your computer screen.
2. Look at the image at a distance of 8-12 inches or 20-30 centimeters from the screen.
3. Stare at the black dot in the middle of the white star for 30 seconds. Keep your focus on the black dot or the test will not work.
4. After 30 seconds, shift your focus to the black dot in the middle of the white rectangle. Once again, you must focus, you absolutely must hold your focus on the black dot in the middle of the white square after the 30 seconds pass, or this will not work.


Black test


What did you see?

This time the issue is color contrast. The difference between white and black creates excessive muscular activity which fatigues the eye. The same thing happens when you try to read white papers on a black or dark desk. You should have seen a grey star on the white square. If you didn't, reread the instructions, and take the test again. Make sure you are close enough to the image.

Here are some practical examples:
If you're in a corporate office, take this theory into the conference room or corporate boardroom. In many instances, you'll find a dark surface, and oftentimes highly lacquered. It may have a high tech corporate look but it will not be conducive to the work at hand. As for your private residence, the kitchen is a critical task environment and the same theories apply.

The scientific explanation is as follows:
White surfaces reflect about 80% of the light, black 5%.
We take these two percentages, divide 80 by 5 and we get a 16:1 Light Reflectance ratio. The Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) in the United States recommends a maximum ratio of 3:1 for a visual task and the adjacent surroundings.

If you're in a commercial situation, consider hiring a professional interior designer who focuses on both visual ergonomics and aesthetics to create a more positive and productive interior environment.



Color Theory

Color theory encompasses a multitude of definitions, concepts and design applications. All the information would fill several encyclopedias. As an introduction, here are a few basic concepts.

The Color Wheel

12 part color wheel

A color circle, based on red, yellow and blue, is traditional in the field of art. Sir Isaac Newton developed the first circular diagram of colors in 1666. Since then scientists and artists have studied and designed numerous variations of this concept. Differences of opinion about the validity of one format over another continue to provoke debate. In reality, any color circle or color wheel which presents a logically arranged sequence of pure hues has merit.


  Primary colors

Red, yellow and blue

In traditional color theory, these are the 3 pigment colors that can not be mixed or formed by any combination of other colors. All other colors are derived from these 3 hues

Green, orange and purple

These are the colors formed by mixing the primary colors.

Yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green and yellow-green.

These are the colors formed by mixing one primary and one secondary color.




 Color Harmony

Harmony can be defined as a pleasing arrangement of parts, whether it be music, poetry, color, or even an ice cream sundae.

In visual experiences, harmony is something that is pleasing to the eye. It engages the viewer and it creates an inner sense of order, a balance in the visual experience. When something is not harmonious, it's either boring or chaotic. At one extreme is a visual experience that is so bland that the viewer is not engaged. The human brain will reject under-stimulating information. At the other extreme is a visual experience that is so overdone, so chaotic that the viewer can't stand to look at it. The human brain rejects what it can not organize, what it can not understand. The visual task requires that we present a logical structure. Color harmony delivers visual interest and a sense of order.

In summary, extreme unity leads to under-stimulation, extreme complexity leads to over-stimulation. Harmony is a dynamic equilibrium.

Some Formulas for Color Harmony

There are many theories for harmony. The following illustrations and descriptions present some basic formulas .

A color scheme based on analogous colors

Example of an anaologous color harmony

Analogous colors are any three colors which are side by side on a 12 part color wheel, such as yellow-green, yellow, and yellow-orange. Usually one of the three colors predominates.

A color scheme based on complementary colors

Example of a complementary color harmony

Complementary colors are any two colors which are directly opposite each other, such as red and green and red-purple and yellow-green. In the illustration above, there are several variations of yellow-green in the leaves and several variations of red-purple in the orchid. These opposing colors create maximum contrast and maximum stability.

A color scheme based on nature

color harmony in nature

Nature provides a perfect departure point for color harmony. In the illustration above, red yellow and green create a harmonious design, regardless of whether this combination fits into a technical formula for color harmony.



Color Context

How color behaves in relation to other colors and shapes is a complex area of color theory.

Compare the contrast effects of different color backgrounds for the same red square.

Color Voodoo Publications

Red appears more brilliant against a black background and somewhat duller against the white background. In contrast with orange, the red appears lifeless; in contrast with blue-green, it exhibits brilliance. Notice that the red square appears larger on black than on other background colors.

Different readings of the same color

Color Voodoo Publications

If your computer has sufficient color stability and gamma correction (link to Color Blind Computers) you will see that the small purple rectangle on the left appears to have a red-purple tinge when compared to the small purple rectangle on the right. They are both the same color as seen in the illustration below. This demonstrates how three colors can be perceived as four colors.

Observing the effects colors have on each other is the starting point for understanding the relativity of color. The relationship of values, saturations and the warmth or coolness of respective hues can cause noticeable differences in our perception of color.

Illustrations and text, courtesy of
Color Logic
and Color Logic for Web Site Design
Color Voodoo Publications


Color Psychology



Color and Culture Matters

Giovani Arnolfini and His Bride by Jan van Eyck


Giovanni Arnolfini and His Bride

by Jan Van Eyck , 1434

The bride in this Renaissance masterpiece wears green as a symbol of her fertility. She is slouching in imitation of pregnancy, thus indicating her willingness to bear children.

fig leaf and green candy bar

The evolution of the symbolism of green in Western culture:

In Celtic myths the Green man was the God of fertility.

Later in the millennium, Early Christians banned green because it had been used in pagan ceremonies.

Nevertheless, as evidenced by this 15th Century wedding portrait, the color green was the best choice for the bride's gown because of its earliest symbolism.

Of note is the continued symbolism attached to the color in the latter part of this century. Anyone who chooses a green m & m (an American candy which contains an assortment of different colored chocolate sweets) is sending a somewhat similar message. Green has been reinterpreted by late 20th century American culture to signify a state of heightened sexuality in this specific situation.

the green brideOther bride colors:

White would be an inappropriate color for a wedding in China. It is the color of mourning. If a bride chooses a white wedding gown, her parents would probably not allow her to get married.

In India, even in Christian weddings, while most brides wear white, it is usually relieved by at least a touch of some other color. If a married woman wears unrelieved white in India, she is inviting widowhood and unhappiness.

fig leaf and green candy bar

Other cultural references for green:

Green was a sacred color to the Egyptians representing the hope and joy of Spring.
Green is a sacred color to Moslems.
Japanese Emperor Hirohito's birthday is celebrated as "Green Day" because he loved to garden.

Green trivia:

It is said that green is the most restful color for the human eye.
Green has great healing power. It can soothe pain.
People who work in green environments have fewer stomach aches.
Green is beneficial around teething infants.
Suicides dropped 34% when London's Blackfriar Bridge was painted green.


Color & Accident Matters

Green stop sign and cars

The color made me do it! You are the judge.

"I didn't intend to break the traffic rules," he stated. "It's the stop sign. It's green and it should be red and I went right through it." What's your verdict?

Colors do affect our actions and reactions in traffic as well as in interior environments. Colors can create conditions that can cause fatigue, increase stress, decrease visual perception, damage eyesight, increase possible worker errors, and negatively affect orientation and safety.

The healthy, accident-free workspace is an issue that is being redefined by new facts. The "sick building syndrome" has made us aware of the toxic effects of many interior elements. Ergonomics has made us aware of furniture which can help to avoid strain and injury. Of equal importance is the role that color plays in creating accident-free, physically and visually sound interiors. Incorrect use of colors and patterns in interior and exterior environments can create visual impairments and cause serious accidents.

Some examples of color as the cause of accidents and injuries in interior and exterior environments:

Factory worker with levers

1. A factory worker reaches for the emergency lever on a machine. It is improperly color coded and does not conform to OSHA regulations. He reaches for the wrong one.

carpet accident

2. An elderly man is walking down a hallway in a hotel. The hall is carpeted with a brightly colored pattern. He correctly perceives the colors to be "advancing", his motor responses respond, and he trips and falls to the floor.

lifting accident about to happen

3. A dock worker carrying a box on a stepped platform, slips and falls because the edge of the work area is not distinctly marked.

fried eyes and wicked computer

4. An office worker suffers constant headaches and visual fatigue after working at a computer terminal. The wall color behind the monitor and glare from surrounding fixtures are straining her eyes. After several years, her once perfect vision is impaired.


5. An assembly line worker is distracted by a brightly colored object within her field of vision. She loses concentration and injures her hand.



Three cars

Car Color Stories

Does the color of your car attract speeding tickets? Do the birds and the bees love your car? What's your favorite color for a car? Our visitors have sent us many stories. We invite you to hear what they have to say.


I once owned an 1980 "sand-beige" ford escort. "Sand-beige" is a metallic goldish color which looks much nicer and honey-toned in the showroom than it does on the street. In the 4 years that I owned the car, it was hit 11 times. Each time it was either completely stopped at a light, stop sign or parked. Apparently, this is a hard color to see, particularly on sunny days. Now, I drive a black VW and have not been in an accident in 5 years. USA

When I read the anonymous letter about the owner of the car who had been hit 11 times and I realized that it is similiar to my situation..... USA


I used to owned a 1991 red VW Jetta GL. My old red Jetta was scarlet red a standard color which is bright, eye-catching and "alert" on the road. In my four years driving this VW Jetta GL, I had been hit many times while driving carefully, stopped at a stop sign or parked. I do not understand why the color red should be such a target for the drivers on the road...? But fortunately I am driving my own "sand-beige" SAAB and I noticed that the color does makes my car less obvious on the I guess that I will have to drive more carefully on the road, preventing from the other cars from hitting me more. USA

I don't believe I could ever have a car in any color but candy-apple/fire-engine red. I don't know why. But when I'm driving a car in any other color, I feel like someone is quietly whispering, "Shhh." in my ear. I don't like being shushed. ;-) USA

I notice several stories about red cars being like moving targets that other cars seem to *try* to hit. I pondered on this a bit, then thought about how bull-fighters ALWAYS use a red cape to taunt the bull until he charged. Maybe there is something to this. . . .USA

I've owned red cars since 1978 (6 of them). I LOVE red cars. Never had an accident, never a ticket, drive FAST all the time. Feel really good driving red cars! Previous colors of my cars were: silver, green, two-tone blue/white, brown, yellow, two-tone brown, white, ochre, blue, light blue. Never felt as good in these cars as I do in red, although my last brown car (1973 Montego) with matching brown interior made me feel most peaceful. However, since switching to red I feel so ALIVE in my car. In fact I now wear red shirts, red jackets, etc. Interesting about color, how it affects a person. USA

My car is bright RED Grand Am with the license plate MAADONA. My sister went with me shopping the other day and commented that people kept looking at us. Wonder why? USA

A few years back when I took a business trip to Tampa. It was cold winter weather here in Illinois, so I thought I would *treat* myself with renting a bright red LeBaron Convertible. The weather was gorgeous, top down, having a ball. While I was visiting with my client, one of the employees came in and told me "I think something is wrong with your car, it's smoking." I rushed out, along with my client and several other employees. The darn thing was ON FIRE!!! Smoke billowing out from under the hood. A couple of handy guys at my clients office sprayed her down good with white foamy stuff that put out the fire. Made a real mess of the engine compartment. ~:-) The rental car guy mumbled something like "It's rush hour and I don't think we have another red convertible, will another color do?" Well, the rental company was exposed to my gentle art of negotiating - like THREATS and my babbling on about how I had looked forward to treating myself by cruising around Tampa in a red convertible having come from sub-zero weather in Illinois. Wasn't too long when up pulled a car-carrier with another bright red convertible. I was happy then.USA


I own a dark, hunter green Saturn. I have noticed that policemen tend to pass me by even when I am speeding. Could this possibly be the color of my car? USA

"Metallic green" is the official colour of my Mazda, which is hardly an adequate description! My baby vacillates between black, dark blue, and green - sometimes taking on tinges of aqua, depending on the light and her mood. Whether she reflects on me or I on her, I'm not sure, but we trundle along in sync and harmony. Our bond seems to scare other cars away - despite being a careless driver, we've never had a crash! Australia

I lived in Indonesia. I never had any particular preference for car colors, so in the past I had many different colors. I've had white, beige, dark brown, blue, emerald green, dull green, even turquoise. Every member of the family is a good driver, there was only one accident within 10 years and it wasn't our fault. About 2 years ago, I got a very dark green metallic car. Within 8 months the car once fell into a small sewerage, hit a truck, got hit on the back twice, got the stereo stolen, vandalized, had a total engine malfunction on a real heavy rain, and several other minor mishaps. Most of these happened during the night. I sold the car afterwards, and bought exactly the same car but this time it's metallic red. Nothing bad ever happened to the new one. I talked to new owner, but he said it's doing just fine. That's odd.....Indonesia

I have never owned a bright red or dark color of car in all my 20 years of driving. I now drive a pale green oldsmobile. I have had a few close calls but never a contact. . Thank heavens. I have read in the past that red cars are like a moving target to some... I will continue to drive lite colored cars anyway....USA


I am different now. I drive a sensible, white, entry-level luxury car. But once, I was wild and owned a turqouise Camaro. I will not comment about the quality of the car, or how it drives in the snow, but I will always remember, little girls dancing in the street as I drove by, and telling me how pretty my aqua-colored car was. They were right!USA


My mother owned a silver-grey car. We noticed a significate number of near colisions on foggy morning and dusky evening hours. The silver seems to blend in with the road. USA

I will never again rent a dark gray car. After renting hundreds of cars in various colors around the US, It was discovered that no matter where you are, a dark gray car just can't be seen well under low light level conditions - it blends with the road, and consequently people cut in front of the car as if it wasn't there at all. This happened 5 times in one day! Contrast with the road surface is essential, otherwise you are driving an invisible car. It doesn't matter what model or sized car - just the color. Then I once had a light blue car in a shade that it no longer available (thank heavens). I got rid of because birds kept diving into the car thinking it was water. This would happen even when driving the car.


I had a yellow mazda; Bees were always a problem, I could not enjoy having the windows down due to this. Now I have a blue oldsmobile and Dragonflies think the hood is a pond and try to land on it over and over again. jp USA


I owned one time a black firebird and used to park under trees of the park in front of the house. These trees being the home of a lot of pigeons and I had far more pigeon "droppings" on my car than on light colored cars. May be a dark coloured ground is more "inspiring" for the birds ? Belgium


I have this thing for white cars since I discovered they don't look that dirty even when they're filthy. When I was shopping for my white Honda Accord, the first salesman asked me what color I wanted. I replied, "White." Then he proceded to ask me what my second color choice was, to which I replied, "White." USA

The person who commented about white cars never looking dirty even when they're filthy is absolutely RIGHT! I am now driving my first non-white car and I've already decided that my next car will be white again. The funny thing is that in talking about white cars, people always make the comment that "white cars show the dirt more." Nothing could be further from the truth! My metallic hunter-green Jeep Cherokee always looks dirtier than my white cars ever did. Besides, as a designer, I think that you can appreciate a car's "lines" and good looks better without color to get in the way visually.USA





Like death and taxes, there is no escaping color. It is ubiquitous. Yet what does it all mean? Why are people more relaxed in green rooms? Why do weightlifters do their best in blue gyms?

Colors often have different meanings in various cultures. And even in Western societies, the meanings of various colors have changed over the years. But today in the U.S., researchers have generally found the following to be accurate.


Black is the color of authority and power. It is popular in fashion because it makes people appear thinner. It is also stylish and timeless. Black also implies submission. Priests wear black to signify submission to God. Some fashion experts say a woman wearing black implies submission to men. Black outfits can also be overpowering, or make the wearer seem aloof or evil. Villains, such as Dracula, often wear black.


Brides wear white to symbolize innocence and purity. White reflects light and is considered a summer color. White is popular in decorating and in fashion because it is light, neutral, and goes with everything. However, white shows dirt and is therefore more difficult to keep clean than other colors. Doctors and nurses wear white to imply sterility.


The most emotionally intense color, red stimulates a faster heartbeat and breathing. It is also the color of love. Red clothing gets noticed and makes the wearer appear heavier. Since it is an extreme color, red clothing might not help people in negotiations or confrontations. Red cars are popular targets for thieves. In decorating, red is usually used as an accent. Decorators say that red furniture should be perfect since it will attract attention.

The most romantic color, pink, is more tranquilizing. Sports teams sometimes paint the locker rooms used by opposing teams bright pink so their opponents will lose energy.


The color of the sky and the ocean, blue is one of the most popular colors. It causes the opposite reaction as red. Peaceful, tranquil blue causes the body to produce calming chemicals, so it is often used in bedrooms. Blue can also be cold and depressing. Fashion consultants recommend wearing blue to job interviews because it symbolizes loyalty. People are more productive in blue rooms. Studies show weightlifters are able to handle heavier weights in blue gyms.


Currently the most popular decorating color, green symbolizes nature. It is the easiest color on the eye and can improve vision. It is a calming, refreshing color. People waiting to appear on TV sit in "green rooms" to relax. Hospitals often use green because it relaxes patients. Brides in the Middle Ages wore green to symbolize fertility. Dark green is masculine, conservative, and implies wealth. However, seamstresses often refuse to use green thread on the eve of a fashion show for fear it will bring bad luck.


Cheerful sunny yellow is an attention getter. While it is considered an optimistic color, people lose their tempers more often in yellow rooms, and babies will cry more. It is the most difficult color for the eye to take in, so it can be overpowering if overused. Yellow enhances concentration, hence its use for legal pads. It also speeds metabolism.


The color of royalty, purple connotes luxury, wealth, and sophistication. It is also feminine and romantic. However, because it is rare in nature, purple can appear artificial.


Solid, reliable brown is the color of earth and is abundant in nature. Light brown implies genuineness while dark brown is similar to wood or leather. Brown can also be sad and wistful. Men are more apt to say brown is one of their favorite colors.

Colors of the Flag

In the U.S. flag, white stands for purity and innocence. Red represents valor and hardiness, while blue signifies justice, perseverance, and vigilance. The stars represent the heavens and all the good that people strive for, while the stripes emulate the sun's rays.

Food for Thought

While blue is one of the most popular colors it is one of the least appetizing. Blue food is rare in nature. Food researchers say that when humans searched for food, they learned to avoid toxic or spoiled objects, which were often blue, black, or purple. When food dyed blue is served to study subjects, they lose appetite.

Green, brown, and red are the most popular food colors. Red is often used in restaurant decorating schemes because it is an appetite stimulant.



Color and Food Matters

blue m&m candies

Blue m & m's
Blue Candy

A few years ago, the makers of "m & m's," an American candy which contains an assortment of different colored chocolate sweets, added a new color to its candy bag: Blue. Blue ? Why Blue? Although they reported that this was the result of a vote by m & m's fans it raises a few questions. It may very well be the last color left in the bag after the novelty wears off.

Blue Plates
Blue Color Fact:

Of all the colors in the spectrum, blue is an appetite suppressant. Weight loss plans suggest putting your food on a blue plate. Or even better than that, put a blue light in your refrigerator and watch your munchies disappear. Or here's another tip: Dye your food blue! A little black will make it a double whammy.

Blue Musubi with Nori and Spam

What you see above is a delicacy prepared for the annual food party held at the end of the author's color course at the University of Hawaii. It's "musubi", consisting of rice, a filling and "nori" a seaweed wrapper. Traditionally it's Japanese but very popular in Hawaii in it's natural state. In case you're wondering what the pink stuff is, it's spam. If you want to create your own dyed food,use only natural "food coloring" purchased in a grocery store. Other coloring agents are toxic.

Dramatic results can also be achieved by using a blue light bulb for your dining area.


One juicy blue candy


Blue food is a rare occurrence in nature. There are no leafy blue vegetables (blue lettuce?), no blue meats (blueburger, well-done please), and aside from blueberries and a few blue-purple potatoes from remote spots on the globe, blue just doesn't exist in any significant quantity as a natural food color.

Consequently, we don't have an automatic appetite response to blue. Furthermore, our primal nature avoids food that are poisonous. A million years ago, when our earliest ancestors were foraging for food, blue, purple and black were "color warning signs" of potentially lethal food.

and a food professional has this to say:

Color and the appeal of various foods is also closely related. Just the sight of food fires neurons in the hypothalamus. Subjects presented food to eat in the dark reported a critically missing element for enjoying any cuisine: the appearance of food. For the sighted, the eyes are the first place that must be convinced before a food is even tried. This means that some food products fail in the marketplace not because of bad taste, texture, or smell but because the consumer never got that far. Colors are significant and almost universally it is difficult to get a consumer to try a blue-colored food -- though more are being marketed for children these days. Greens, browns, reds, and several other colors are more generally acceptable, though they can vary by culture. The Japanese are renowned for their elaborate use of food colorings, some that would have difficulty getting approval by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States.

Gary Blumenthal International Food Strategies

Blue Candy

Fun ? ! ?

Toss some cooked spaghetti noodles with diluted blue food coloring or cook the noodles in blue colored boiling water.(Note: Use only "food coloring" purchased in a grocery stores for these recipes. Other coloring agents are toxic). Imagine what you can do to the sauce. Don't forget to add a few blue m & m's for garnish.




The Meaning of Color for Gender
by Natalia Khouw

What we see and interact with is in color, includes both natural and built environments. About 80% of the information which we assimilate through the sense, is visual. However, color does more than just give us objective information about our world-it affects how we feel. The presence of color become more important in interior environment, since most people spend more time inside than outside.

Is there a gender difference in response to color? Although findings are ambiguous, many investigations have indicated that there are differences between gender in preferences for colors. Early investigations done by by Guilford (1934) on the harmony of color combinations found that a person is likely to see balance in colors that are closely related or the opposite. Guilford also found some evidence that more pleasing results were obtained from either very small or very large differences in hue rather than medium differences, with this tendency more frequent in women than men.

A review of color studies done by Eysenck in early 1940's notes the following results to the relationship between gender and color. Dorcus (1926) found yellow had a higher affective value for the men than women and St. George (1938) maintained that blue for men stands out far more than for women. An even earlier study by Jastrow (1897) found men preferred blue to red and women red to blue. Eysenck's study, however, found only one gender difference with yellow being preferred to orange by women and orange to yellow by men. This finding was reiforced later by Birren (1952) who found men preferred orange to yellow; while women placed orange at the bottom of the list.

Guilford and Smith (1959) found men were generally more tolerant toward achromatic colors than women. Thus, Guilford and Smith proposed that women might be more color-concious and their color tastes more flexible and diverse. Likewise, McInnis and Shearer (1964) found that blue green was more favored among women than men, and women preferred tints more than shades. They also found 56% of men and 76% of women preferred cool colors, and 51% men and 45% women chose bright colors. In a similar study, Plater (1967) found men had a tendency to prefer stronger chromas than women.

Rikard Kuller (1976) conducted a study on the effects of color in two opposite environments. Six men and six women were asked to stay in two rooms, one room was colorful and complex; while the other was gray and sterile. Electroencephalogram (EEG) and pulse rates were recorded throughout the period, as well as the individuals' subjective emotional feelings. The results showed heart rates were faster in the gray room than in the colorful room. Moreover, men were found to have stress reactions more than women. Men also became more bored than did the women in the gray room. Kuller also postulated that men could not achieve the same degree of mental relaxation as women.

Thomas, Curtis, and Bolton (1978) interviewed 72 Nepalese and asked them to list the names all the colors they could think of. There was a significant difference between men and women. Although, the women consistently listed more color names than men did, the cultural context of this study must be noted since Nepalese women traditionally wear more colorful clothing than men do. A similar study by Greene (1995) examined the color identification and vocabulary skills of college students. They were asked to identify the colors of 21 color chips. The results showed that women recognized significantly more elaborate colors than did the men. Findings also indicated that gender different responses in color identification may be attributed to a difference in the socialization of men and women.

Another study examined the appropriateness of colors used on the walls of a simulated domestic interior furnished in one of three styles; Georgian, Art Nouveau and Modern. Whitfield (1984) reported that internal consistency among women is higher than for men. When the study was broadened to include marital status, married women achieve significantly more internal consistency in each condition of the three styles than did the men.

More recently, Radeloff (1990) has found that women were more likely than men to have a favorite color. In expressing the preferences for light versus dark colors, there was no significant differences between men and women; however, in expressing the preference for bright and soft colors, there was a difference, with women preferring soft colors and men preferring bright ones.


Gender and the Meaning of Color in Interior Environments
by Natalia Khouw

The six abstract color palettes used in the Guerin, Park, and Yang (1995) model to test the meaning of color in interior environments were incorporated into a computer generated 3-D commercial lobby space. The computer-generated images in the six color palettes were reproduced into slides. Each slide illustrated the same furniture groupings with the following differences in the color palettes:

  • Interior 1 in cool hues, light value dominant, low chroma, and high contrast.
  • Interior 2 in warm hues, light value dominant, high chroma, and high contrast.
  • Interior 3 in warm hues, light value dominant, medium chroma, and low contrast.
  • Interior 4 in neutral hues, light value dominant, low chroma, and high contrast.
  • Interior 5 in cool hues, medium value dominant, high chroma, and medium contrast.
  • Interior 6 in warm hues, dark value dominant, medium chroma, and medium contrast.

A questionnaire was developed from the 21 words used by Guerin, Park, and Yang (1995) to describe the characteristics of interior environments. Subjects were asked to respond to each cescriptor with zero suggesting the characteristic was not present; and five that the characteristic was largely present. In other words, as the number increased, so did the degree of presence of the characteristic (see descriptor list below).






The responses were separated into men and women categories and examined based on the responses to each descriptor. Three factors were found to emerge after a factor analysis was performed on the 21 decriptive words using Varimax rotation. Each factor was then assigned a name based on the underlying contruct that found to be in common within each set of adjective descriptors (see list below).

Livability Factor:
pleasant, comfortable, inviting, calming, airy, spacious, casual, open, modest, attractive.

Organization Factor:
ordered, unified, coordinated, formal, sophisticated, expensive, rich.

Symptomatic Factor:
exciting, diverse, complex, intricate.


This exploratory work reinforces evidence from other studies that have found color responses to be influenced by gender differences. Previous studies have shown men are relatively more tolerant to achromatic colors than women (Guilford & Smith, 1959). Meanwhile in this study found the percentages of men rated the color palettes with chromatic relationships higher than did women, especially the interiors with high chroma such as Interior 2 and Interior 5. It is postulated that, in general, men are more tolerant to the use of either achromatic or chromatic colors in interiors.

An examination of the results across all six interiors found only Interior 5 as having significantly different responses between the genders to the color relationships applied in the interior. With its cool hue, medium value dominant, high chroma, and medium contrast, Interior 5 was considered more favorable by men than women who felt there was too much contrast. Researches have shown that cool hues such as blue are seen as calming and relaxing, whereas warm hues such as red are seen as exciting and stimulating. With red and blue as the dominant colors in Interior 5, it suggested that the combination of this two extreme color characteristics creates confusion and distraction, with higher frequency of these reactions in women than men. Surprisingly, Walton and Morrison found that the combination of red and blue, on the contrary, were most preferred by adults (Birren, 1978).

As one contemplates the findings from a design viewpoint, a few suggestions can be made. It is clear that each color palette has its own characteristics, in terms of how the subjects responded to the three factors of Livability, Organization, and Symptomatic. The factors obtained for each interior are relevant to several different design applications. For example, the design of retail spaces such as clothing stores targeted to attract specific genders might wish to take into consideration the impact of color and color relationships in the store design. The results of this study suggest that the color palettes used in Interior 1 and Interior 3 would be the best match for attracting men into the store because the Livability factor and the Symptomatic factor is higher for men in those interiors than any other interiors.

Only six color treatments were tested in this study. Therefore, the study of additional color palettes will expand the range of choices and will provide a better understanding on gender and the color relationships in the interior environments.

This study also suggested that, regardless of gender, people are most sensitive to the chroma used in interior spaces. Subjects in this study tend to dislike the warm-colored environments that had high chroma and high contrast as in Interior 2, and medium chroma and medium contrast, as in Interior 6. Overall, the subjects in this study felt that warm-colored environments with medium and high chroma were generally unpleasant and overpowering; yet, both men and women agreed that the Organization factor and the Symptomatic factor were present in Interior 2 and Interior 6. On the other hand, another warm-colored environment, Interior 3 with medium chroma and low contrast, was listed as the most preffered interior and subjects considered it as appealing and calming. In addition, Interior 3 were rated as higher on the Livability factor and Symptomatic factor, but lower on the Organization factor; with on women responding more positively to the Livability factor, while men responding more positively to the Symptomatic factor.

Previous research has indicated that subjects perceived warm-colored environments as less attractive and less pleasant than cool-colored environments (Bellizzi & Crowley, 1983). However, according to the evidence gathered from this study, subjects in this study appeared to be more effected by the combination of color properties such as hue, value, and chroma, than by the coolness or wamth alone. In other words, the subject's impressions of color seemed to be more subtle and effected not just by the cooolness or warmness of the color palette, but also by the calibration of value, chroma, and contrast used in the interiors.

Further research on the relationship between gender and the meaning of color in the interior environment is suggested. Parallel interdiciplinary studies that examine aspects of culture, human psychology and physiology would provide a more complete understanding of gender color responses to color relationships and the meaning of color. This exploratory study has provide data that needs broadening in order to provide the design community with more information about the relationship of color and meaning in the design of interior spaces.


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