The importance of being colourful

Colour is a vitally important issue to designers whatever their discipline, says Judy Coo, and its effects on consumers are not purely visual

Judy Coo

The novelist Vladimir Nabokov once claimed he could hear colour and actually assigned a colour to each letter of the alphabet based on each letter’s particular sound, linking two very powerful senses.

On a related note, I was reading the excellent Just My Type, a wonderful book about the history of fonts by Simon Garfield. In one chapter, the German type guru Erik Spiekermann describes his love for typography as ’typomania’. He expands this by saying, ’Type has rhythm, just like music. But it’s like cooking – you can follow a recipe to the last gram, but if the love isn’t there [the end result] is just flat and bland.’

I know exactly what he means and, in my case, it is ’colourmania’. In fact, this is the name of another great book which has contributions from designers around the world who have articulated how colours connect to them in every sense.

My ’colourmania’ comes from a passion for how we design homes, fashion, products and communication. I see and feel the harmony and tempo of colour around me all the time, from the catwalks to the street. I am constantly seeking out inspiration for design and colour from travel, interiors, music, the street, hotels, galleries and innovative retailers.

I live and breathe colour. It affects the way I design my fabrics and wallpapers and how I advise other designers and retailers.

Colour is a vitally important issue to all designers, whatever their discipline. Colour is received and processed through the eyes, but it is not a purely visual phenomenon. Scientifically, it is the principal cue to composition and affects us both physiologically and psychologically.

Some 80 per cent of all psychological responses to aesthetic influences are unconscious – this reaction is more powerful than conscious thought. Every living creature responds to the messages implicit in the play of light and colour. Throughout millions of years of evolution, understanding the language of colour has helped us to survive – to recognise danger signals of all kinds.

Selecting the right colour or colour palette can critically affect a brand or a product’s performance in the market. Remember how Jonathan Ive’s inspired colourful designs of the iMac changed the fortunes of Apple and saved us from a world of ’beige’ computers. Sunglasses brand Ray-Ban has, meanwhile, re-invented itself through the intelligent use of product colour. Take a look at most contemporary car ads to see how colour is being used bravely – more often pea green than silver now. In fact ,a lot of new products have embraced brave new colour palettes.

I recently visited the wonderful Yves Saint Laurent retrospective at the Petit Palais in Paris. There was a small room dedicated to his immense collection of silk colour swatches, spread wall to ceiling, of every colour imaginable, ranging from Elsa Schiaparelli pinks to marigold yellows, Yves Klein blues and the deepest scarlet reds. The room next door created totally the opposite sensation – it was dedicated to the iconic ’la smoking jacket’, an intense sea of varying shades of black tailored jackets, trousers and dresses, all beautifully lit.

I find inspiration everywhere in film. Jill Sander’s wardrobe designs for Tilda Swinton in I am Love are, for example, breathtaking, symbolising her changing mood throughout the story. Television series Mad Men also shows an impeccable eye for period detail and an authentic 1960s colour palette updated for the modern day.

And then there is travel. Most recently, I visited the US state of Colorado – whose name translates as ’the state of colour’, from the Spanish colour red. Autumn was at its peak in the Rockies and the colours were shockingly beautiful – the golden yellow Aspen trees shimmering against an azure blue sky and a backdrop of natural stone and red rock. I am now producing design collections and colour palettes based on my travels there.

Fernand Leger wrote that ’colour is a basic human need… like fire and water, a raw material, indispensable to life’. Similarly, Oscar Wilde said, ’Colour unspoiled by meaning and unallied with definite form can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways.’ I fully agree with them.

How colour affects behaviour

  • Colour increases brand recognition by up to 80%
  • Colour improves readership as much as 40%
  • Colour advertisements are read up to 42% more than similar ads in black and white
  • Colour accelerates learning from 55% to 78%
  • Colour increases comprehension by 73%
  • Colour can be 85% of the reason people decide to buy a particular product or service
  • Research reveals people make a subconscious judgement about a person, environment, or product within 90 seconds, and that between 62% and 90% of that assessment is based on colour alone

Source: CCICOLOR – Institute for Colour Research

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  • Amy Fox November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Great post -as a designer too I totally agree on how powerful colour is I wrote a blog myself, a while ago, on using the power on colour – you might like to look at it

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