(F39)_Job:12-40337 Title:RP-Design Elements 2nd Edition
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color fundamentals
The Psychology of Color With color comes
a variety of psychological messages that
can be used to influence content—both
imagery and the verbal meaning of typog-
raphy. This emotional component of color
is deeply connected to human experience at
an instinctual and biological level. Colors
of varying wavelengths have different
effects on the autonomic nervous system—
warmer colors, such as red and yellows,
have long wavelengths, and so more energy
is needed to process them as they enter the
eye and brain. The accompanying rise in
energy level and metabolic rate translates
as arousal. Conversely, the shorter wave-
lengths of cooler colors—such as blue,
green, and violet—require far less energy
to process, resulting in the slowing of our
metabolic rate and a soothing, calming ef-
fect. The psychological properties of color,
however, also depend highly on a viewer’s
culture and personal experience.
Many cultures equate red with feelings
of hunger, anger, or energy because red is
closely associated with meat, blood, and
violence. By contrast, vegetarians might
associate the color green with hunger. In
Western cultures, which are predominantly
Christian, black is associated with death
and mourning, but Hindus associate the
color white with death. Christians associate
white with purity or cleanliness. Because of
the history of Western civilization, violet
This vibrant color is among the
most noticeable. Red stimulates
the autonomic nervous system
to the highest degree, invoking
the “fight or flight” adrenaline
response, causing us to salivate
with hunger, or causing us to feel
impulsive. Red evokes feelings of
passion and arousal.
Violet is sometimes perceived
as compromising—but also
as mysterious and elusive. The
value and hue of violet greatly
affect its communication:
deep violets, approaching black,
connote death; pale, cooler vio-
lets, such as lavender, are dreamy
and nostalgic; red-hued violets,
such as fuchsia, are dramatic and
energetic; plumlike hues
are magical.
With the shortest wavelength,
green is the most relaxing color of
the spectrum. Its association with
nature and vegetation makes it
feel safe. The brighter the green,
the more youthful and energetic.
Deeper greens suggest reliable
economic growth. More neutral
greens, such as olive, evoke
earthiness. However, green, in
the right context, can connote
illness or decay.
A mixture of red and yellow,
orange engenders feelings similar
to that of its parent colors—vital-
ity and arousal (red) and warmth
and friendliness (yellow). Orange
appears outgoing and adventur-
ous but may be perceived as
slightly irresponsible. Deeper
orange induces salivation and a
feeling of luxury. Brighter orange
connotes health, freshness,
quality, and strength. As orange
becomes more neutral, its activity
decreases, but it retains a certain
sophistication, becoming exotic.
The ultimate neutral, gray may be
perceived as noncommittal, but
can be formal, dignified, and au-
thoritative. Lacking the emotion
that chroma carries, it may seem
aloof or suggest untouchable
wealth. Gray may be associated
with technology, especially when
presented as silver. It suggests
precision, control, competence,
sophistication, and industry.
In a subtractive color model,
white represents the pres-
ence of all color wavelengths;
in an additive model, it is the
absence of color. Both of these
models help form the basis for
white’s authoritative, pure, and
all-encompassing power. As the
mixture of all colors of light,
it connotes spiritual wholeness
and power. Around areas of color
activity in a composition—espe-
cially around black, its ultimate
contrast—white appears restful,
stately, and pure.
The power of blue to calm and
create a sense of protection
or safety results from its short
wavelength; its association with
the ocean and sky account for its
perception as solid and depend-
able. Statistically, blue is the
best liked of all the colors.
Associated with the Sun and
warmth, yellow stimulates a
sense of happiness. It appears
to advance spatially in relation
to other colors and also helps
to enliven surrounding colors.
Yellow encourages clear thinking
and memory retention. A brighter,
greener yellow can cause anxiety;
deeper yellows evoke wealth.
The association of brown with
earth and wood creates a sense of
comfort and safety. The solidity
of the color, because of its organic
connotation, evokes feelings of
timelessness and lasting value.
Brown’s natural qualities are
perceived as rugged, ecological,
and hard working; its earthy con-
nection connotes trustworthiness
and durability.
Unknowable and extreme, black
is the strongest color in the
visible spectrum. Its density and
contrast are dominant, but it
seems neither to recede nor to
advance in space. Its indetermi-
nate quality reminds viewers of
nothingness, outer space, and, in
Western culture, death. Its mys-
tery is perceived as formal and
exclusive, suggesting authority,
superiority, and dignity.
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