Colour perception

I studied vision as part of my psychology degree. Vision a multi-disciplinary subject, encompassing biology, chemistry, physics, neuroscience and psychology. Colour perception is an area that has fascinated me ever since I was a child and I encountered my Dad’s colour-blindness for the first time.

I was lucky enough to spend the first 8 years of my life living in Kenya and we spent some of the school holidays on the coast (I wonder where my wanderlust comes from?!).

One day, when I was about 6 years old, Dad and I had taken a little trip to the coral reef in a rowing boat. We were leaning over the edge looking at the beautiful tropical fish and I pointed out a bright red star fish. My Dad couldn’t see it. This blew me away! I couldn’t believe we were both looking at the same thing and seeing it very differently.

The image below shows roughly what I saw on the left and an approximation of what Dad could see on the right.

It’s estimated that 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women worldwide have some form of colour blindness so it’s crucial to bear this in mind in design. For example, if you place red items on a green background, my Dad would have a hard job determining between them. If you put important marketing call-to-actions in places people with colour blindness can’t see, you have potentially lost an opportunity to convert into a sale.

Luckily there are tools, such as WebAIM contrast checker and this colour blindness simulator to help us.

Colour also has many cultural and historical references which is why it’s such an important aspect of a company’s brand.

The reality is that human beings need to have an emotional attachment to colour. It’s a primitive response to the world around us. For example, red can indicate danger, such as poisonous funghi or blood, or it can indicate when fruit is ripe to eat. The brain automatically goes into a heightened state to establish which is the best course of action. All colours have a biological response, as well as cultural connotations.

As a designer, I need to be aware of all these aspects about colour when developing a brand’s visual identity.

Do you remember ‘that dress’?

A couple of years ago, an online image of a blue and black striped dress divided us all. Some people thought the dress was white and gold, and others were convinced it was blue and black. Professor Jim Al-Khalili has a fascinating podcast series, The Life Scientific, where he talks to leading scientists about their life and work. In this one, he talks to Anya Hurlbert professor of visual neuroscience at Newcastle University about the way we see colour (and explains why that dress looked different to different people). It’s a really interesting listen — as are all of the Life Scientific episodes.

Design mood boards

When I start working on a client’s brand and visual idenity project, I frequently make use of mood boards. These help me communicate visually with a client during the early stages so that we get the visual tone right before moving on to the more specific design elements such as the logo or website layouts.

Below is a sneak peak of one for a client I’m working with at the moment. I absolutely love it because the client is a business owner with such a warm and vibrant personality and the mood board really sums up how I feel people will respond to her. All top secret at the moment, but I can’t wait to share this one more widely when it goes live!