Blue Monday. Black Friday. Red hot. Green credentials. How many of us describe and perceive the world is coloured, literally, by tone, hue and saturation.
From learning the names of colours as children, to discovering their symbolism for emotions, seasons, fashions and brands, instead of being something that slips into the background, colour is central to our experience.
It has a strong connection to how we feel and we often have opinions about different shades and how they’re used, making colour choices a source of debate. Pantone’s often contentious ‘Colour of the Year’, for example, made the news with this year’s choice of two tones. Their selection of Ultimate Gray and a yellow called Illuminating – a combination they state is ‘a marriage of colour conveying a message of strength and hopefulness that is both enduring and uplifting’ – was described by US Vogue magazine as simply ‘really weird’.
Whatever you make of it, research shows that colour does have a non-visual impact on us; think about the blue light of a smartphone and how alert it makes you feel on a sleepless night, or the much-cited claim that red makes a person’s heart beat faster. The physiological changes, although sometimes quite small, are well documented.
But Stephen Westland, Professor of Colour Science and Technology at the University of Leeds and Chair of Colour Science and Technology at the university’s School of Design, highlights that colour also has a – sometimes contradictory – psychological effect.