Finding Your Dominant Colour Personality

Scientists, philosophers and artists have been working on colour theories since the beginning of time but the Swiss artist Johannes Itten is the one I keep returning to.

Itten, one of the first teachers at the Bauhaus school of design, approached colour theory not in a purely scientific way like Sir Isaac Newton but from an angle that incorporated a human element. Of course he studied the physics of light waves and the chemistry of how to mix and produce colours but he also acknowledged that “the deepest and truest secrets of color effect are, I know, invisible even in the eye, and are beheld by the heart alone”.

Each quarter depicts a season

While teaching colour harmony to a class of students in 1928, Itten realised that what he found pleasing may not in fact be pleasing to his students. In fact some of them found his harmonies quite discordant. He realised that colours are subjective and individuals have their own personal harmonies.

Itten carried out an interesting experiment with his students. All the students had access to a large array of colours and he asked them to depict (in abstract form) the four seasons using whatever colours they wanted. To his astonishment all the students used completely different sets of colours from each other but everyone could easily depict which seasons their piers were expressing – I am sure you can figure out the seasons I am depicting above.

Following this revelation, he encouraged his students to paint using their own personal spectrum of colours from their four seasons and their paintings that followed were some of their most successful they had created.

Itten’s experiment is such a good example of why it is so important to work out which colours you alone are attracted to. A designer should not push their personal spectrum on to their clients because if the clients are not attracted to the colours they will never feel comfortable no matter how well the project is composed. A designer should encourage the client to find their own spectrum and from there help them to work with their colour palette. Or as Itten put it, “to help a student discover his subjective forms and colours is to help him discover himself”.

The Importance of Seasonal Colour

I rather liked this “test” Resene Paints have added to their site to help clients discover their colour personality (although I came out two seasonal….I always wanted a Winter and a Summer home……

A Designer’s Tool, Red

To appreciate red, I find it helpful to have a basic understanding of colour.

Colour is light (or as Johannes Itten puts it, “colours are the children of light, and light is their mother”).

When light hits an object, the object will absorb the wave lengths of light which are most similar to the atomic structure of that object – the remaining wavelengths will bounce (reflect) into our retina and we perceive it as colour.

Red has the longest wavelength in the spectrum – a bigger job for our brains to de-code. This de-coding can actually increase our pulse rate which is why designers use it if they are wanting to create a stimulating environment. It has also been known to increase ones appetite, possibly why it is often used in dining rooms.

Due to its long wave length it appears to “advance” towards us – in other words it feels closer because its wave length is long and reaches out towards us. This is precisely why it can make a room appear smaller. This effect can be used to your advantage. If for example you have a long narrow room or corridor, you can paint the short walls red. The advancing nature of red makes the far wall (short wall) feel closer thus “shortening” the long walls.

A useful tool indeed.

Photo taken at Tent, London Design Week 2010.

Tent, London Design Week