What Does Color Design Say About You?

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Color Me…There’s a wonderful woman who sets up every Saturday and Sunday at the pet store near my home and tries to adopt out as many homeless cats and kittens as possible. Her cats are all different types and colors, but I happen to know that every so often she goes up to the kill shelters and adopts a handful of black cats because she knows they usually don’t get saved.

Back in October, Mikel Delgado, a UC Berkeley doctorate student authored a study on preconceptions of cats based on their color. Of the 189 surveyed, he found that orange cats are viewed as friendliest. In fact, according to SFGate.com, where the article appeared, “orange or Siamese cats are usually adopted within their first day at a shelter.”

This brings me to the topic of color design and when we talk about color PRINT’s contributor, Jude Stewart, is an expert. She has just written her first book, ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color, currently available as a bundle (which includes her dynamic presentation from HOW Design Live) at MyDesignShop.com for the preorder price of just $22.00. She was kind enough to answer some of my questions about her new book. Her answers have me already anxious to read ROY G. BIV.

Q: How did you get interested in color?I’ve always been strongly influenced by color and was curious to explore the reasons why. To give you just one anecdote: once I was hastily painting my living room and, figuring any pale yellow would do, chose a shade the manufacturers called “Little Angel.” The sinister cheerfulness of that color – an uncomplicated shade contrasting awfully with a roomful of adult furniture – clamped down on me like a migraine.

In this and in a million other instances, I came back over and over to the realization that color matters much more than we acknowledge. As a design writer I was casting about for a deep, satisfying topic, one that intersects with many aspects of culture, a subject you might never find the bottom of. Color answers to that description perfectly.

Q: When writing ROY G. BIV, did you find famous leaders all like the same color?


Hardly. In fact, one of the fun elements about ROY G. BIV are the various illustrated quotes about color sprinkled throughout the book. Color provokes strongly held beliefs and opinions in just about everyone, and the quotes give us clues as to how many noteworthy people felt about color. An amateur painter, Winston Churchill once remarked, “I cannot pretend to feel impartial about colors. I rejoice with the brilliant ones and am genuinely sorry for the poor browns.” His nemesis Adolf Hitler was hotheaded about color, but with a different spin: “If artists do see fields blue, they are deranged, and should go to an asylum. If they only pretend to see them blue, they are criminals and should go to prison.”

Moving to an entirely different historical era (and from hated colors to beloved ones), there’s also Emperor Huang Ti (2698 – 2598 BC), the so-called Yellow Emperor. He clothed himself constantly in yellow as a tribute to the sun. Legend has it, he invented wooden carts, the bow and arrow, and writing.

Q: Why do you think political parties are separated by blue and red?

Great question. America’s political color palette is actually flipflopped from how much of the world assigns these colors. Usually the more conservative party is tagged with blue, and the liberals (most notably the Communists) are identified with red. In the book I tell about Princeton professor Robert Vanderbei’s study of the electoral map during the contentious 2000 Presidential elections. He color-coded each county’s voting results in a shade between true red (100% Republican) and true blue (100% Democrat). As you can imagine, the resulting map of America is mostly purple with very little unmitigated blue or red. The color metaphor? We’re a lot less divided politically than we probably think. There’s another entry in the book discussing the many psychological studies pitting the effects of red on mood and cognition against those created by blue. I’ll cut to the chase: blue induces a looser, more creative mindset, while red promotes accuracy (with a dash of anxiety thrown in What colors is misunderstood?

Black would get my vote. In that chapter I tried to tease out all the associations black can convey beyond darkness, midnight and evil. The sunnier side of black, so to speak, has many interesting nuances, from how it signals fecundity to the Uruk people of Iraq to black knights in Arthurian legend, whose garb indicates, not the stereotypical “bad guy”, but usually a royal good guy who wishes to remain incognito.


Q: Any other interesting facts from the book?

So many! Lots of people have asked about my favorite anecdotes in the book, so here’s a lightning round: I especially liked learning why brown isn’t in the rainbow, what the average color of the universe is, why taxis are yellow, why plants are green (and used to be purple). I also liked cataloguing all the fictional, impossible and imaginary colors from science fiction to actual scientific studies…oh, I’ll stop now.

Follow her tweets on color at twitter.com/joodstew.Visit MyDesignShop.com to buy ROY G. BIV