The Spectrum

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I have a few fundamental problems with color theory and how people are using it.

I believe color theory is extremely important. There are proven physical and psychological effects that different hues have on people.

The problem I have is more one of interpretation. There have been countless studies on this subject, however I have never seen a single one where the cause and effect doesn’t seem, to my anyway, to be forced. Most of them try and attach a set of emotional adjectives to different colors or color pallets. We as humans have too wide a gamut of emotions for colors to be that simple.

Variations of different colors mean something drastically different depending on someones culture heritage. Even within the same country different colors could mean different this depending on your demographic and/or socioeconomic position.

What we can do is study the direct physical effects of color use that information to allow designers to use colors based on what effect they are trying to achieve. Instead of emotion, we should measure heart rate, blood flow, pupal dilation, sweat, brain activity, breathing rate, etc. We then need a larger variety of tests in order to measure a extensive variation of purposes, such as productivity, health, cognitive function, information retention, etc. We also need to do the exact same test over a vast span of time with varied demographics at different countries all over the world.

I doubt a study of this magnitude will ever be done on to my satisfaction. However to be fair this study may already exist, and I may just be ignorant. At the end of the day, even with this level of information we as Designers need to be able to take this data and throw it all out the window; sometimes taking the risk is more important.