Colorific data-nerds! Welcome back to part 2 of my tiny series on color-as-data, considering the coolly abstracted life of color as a mere data-point. In the last post, I plumbed the tension between words and the colors they label, colors as hex values (and endlessly strobing online timepieces), the accidental meanings of Pantone numbers, like Pantone 666: the color of the beast is actually a pernicious periwinkle. Let’s pick up there, shall we?
My book ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color includes lots of juicy quotes about color, rendered in witty, smart illustrations by Oliver Munday. “Reno Dakota” by The Magnetic Fields does a bang-up job of distilling all the moody, turbulent feelings one has when the phone refuses to ring into a single chroma: Pantone 292. And it’s testament to buckets of pale-blue tears that so many illustrators have taken a whack at visualizing these lyrics. Behold:
My earlier post just scratched the surface of color-as-data in the proliferating world of infographics. Here color provides bright, distinctive contrasts between different categories of data, but I’m more interested in how color itself gets explored as a form of meta-data describing impossibly large worlds.
Take the average-color-of-X meme, which designers have used to abstract the dominant colors of everything from the Internet to movie posters to color-terms in language. Armin Vit’s analysis of movie poster color palettes by rating dates back to 2007 but still represents some of the smarter aspects of infographics (a design genre currently suffering from over-use and widespread dumbness). Armin explains his thinking process here.
Color-averaging the Internet – either in its entirety or its super-large subsegments like gaming sites or blogs – constitutes its own mini-genre. Designer Mehmet Gozetlik tackles the question from several perspectives: the entire web, US versus global sites, blogs and games are his subdivisions.
If you like color-as-data mysteries, you’ll love this article from The Atlantic about one software developer’s discovery of “emergent orange”, a stubbornly pervasive average color he discovered after averaging colors in zillions of ways across the web. His search to understand this phenomenon reveals just as many questions as answers, but for those fascinated with color-phenomenon like #TheDress, this is heady and delectably nerdy stuff.
To round out our collection of average-color-of-X experiments, consider Joshua T. Nimoy’s “The Color of Art is A79F94”, the result of averaging color palettes from over 26,000 images on display at MoMA. Spoiler: it’s beige. Meanwhile, Chris Harrison’s Color Flower (below) that visualizes over 16,000 datapoints exploring where boundaries of colors as represented in language – where “red” ends and “brown” begins, for example.
Data is everywhere, as is color. It’s beautiful and weird to see how they inform and amplify each other. Let’s close with a quote from street artist Paul Richard on that most ubiquitous – and enigmatic – fusion of color and data, the video pixel:
Video displays never get the colours right. Pixels aren’t paint; canvases are not packets of digitized information – they’re complicated objects, changeable as wine, getting older every day.
Until next time, color-fans!
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Jude Stewart, a design expert and writer, digs into this rich subject with gusto. What color is the universe? We might say it’s black, but astrophysicists think it might be turquoise. Unless it’s beige. Jude Stewart unlocks a whole different way of looking at the world around us—and brings it all vividly to life in this book. Get it here.