Sunday, September 23, 2007

Color course

This course is an interactive exploration of color and design. It covers some basic color theory and then in to designing color palettes and discussing the pros and cons of various strategies and approaches.

Learning objective
WHO: Anyone
DO: Improve the quality of your color choices and your application of color in any design project
- What are the basics of color theory?
- What are some different approaches to designing with color?
- When is color-coding a good idea and when is it inappropriate?
- How does color relate to emotion?
- What colors and color-signals are truly international?

- Paint chips from your local hardware or paint store
- Drafting dots
- Lots of whiteboard room or wall space with plenty of sticky-backed flip charts
- Appropriate markers for the whiteboard or flip charts
- Card deck made of index cards, with each card having an emotion or emotionally evocative phrase written on it, for example, Stormy, Freshness, Angry, Smug, Moving, Happy, Facetious, Flippant, Jolly.

Notes/tips from from previous sessions:
- Watch out for laptop cords etc. You might want to clear away any such things before the session starts. This is an interactive session with a lot of moving around and things can break!
- This may need to be split into two or more sessions. Size of the group is a big factor to consider. With a group of 14 we were only able to get through two of the exercises.
- Section 2, color theory overview, should probably be done as a handout.

1. Start with an icebreaker of your choice
A good icebreaker for this session would be something that gets people to reveal their mood or emotion. A strenth of color is to set tone and mood, and discussion of emotion will help set the tone.

2. Basic color theory overview
Color is light, and exists along a spectrum which ranges from infrared to ultraviolet. The range that is visible to the naked eye is approximately what you see when you look at a rainbow, usually described as violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, red. A couple of mnemonics to help remember this are VIBGYOR or ROYGBIV (I prefer VIBGYOR). In design, we usually use a color wheel because it can help us describe the various kinds of possible relationships and combinations.

Use the color wheel to describe and discuss the following:
- Primary, secondary and tertiary colors
- Complementary colors, analogous colors

The color wheel, however, only describes one of color's dimensions. Color actually has three dimensions: hue, value and chroma.

Hue is what we generally think of as the color, as shown below. Red, blue, green and pink are all hues. You could think of hue as the name of the color and, yes, its "color." The range of hues is what we see when you look at a color wheel.

Value is the lightness or darkness of the color. Light blue has a lighter value than dark blue. Yellow has a lighter value than red. Surprisingly, the value of red and black is almost identical. It can be easier to see relative values if you look at a black-and-white photo. Sometimes people look through a red filter to help them see and differentiate values more accurately.

As a color moves toward the high end of the value scale (towards white) it is known as a tint. As it moves toward the low end of the value scale (towards black) it is known as a shade. A color palette that tends towards tints is sometimes called a pastel palette, while a palette that tends towards shades might be thought of as richer, like mahogany, burgundy or British Racing Green.

The value scale ranges from light to dark.

Chroma, also known as intensity, is the brightness of a color. This is different than value. Every color has a certain point at which its choma is brightest. For example, yellow is brightest at a very high value, while indigo is brightest at a very low value. The chroma scale ranges from bright to dull or gray.

Exercise: Hue, value, chroma and accents
a. Choose a hue from the color wheel and name it by name.
b. Using the paint ships provided, find the brightest example of that color you can find, as well as the lightest tint and darkest shade within the same hue. Put the tint on top, the color in the middle, and the shade below.
c. Now find the analogous colors that would be to the left and right of the color you selected on the color wheel. Put them to the left and right of your color. Now you should be looking at a plus sign or cross.
d. Now pick four more "accent" colors that you feel round out your color palette in an aesthetically pleasing way, and place them at the four corners, so you have a 3x3 color matrix.
e. Tape your 3x3 matrix up on the wall.
f. Now go around the room and have each person describe their color palette, using the following discussion questions:
- Why did you choose the four colors that you did?
- How did the colors you chose map to your main hue? Were they complementary, analogous, tertiary? Something else?
- If you were to give your color palette a name, what would it be?
- What emotion does this palette evoke?
- In what kinds of projects might you use this color combination?
g. Now have people try to change the feeling or emotion of their palette dramatically, by switching only two of the accent colors.
- What difference did the accent colors make?
- How were you able to change the emotion or feeling change by changing the accent colors?
- What would you name your new palette?

4. Intuition and color
Color has a strong power to evoke emotion. In Euro-American culture, Blue tends to give a feeling of security while red gives the impression of power. This may be why the "power suit" combination of a navy blue suit and red tie is so effective. From an evolutionary perspective we are geared to notice anything that is different or stands out. Since earth tones, blues and greens are found in almost any natural environment, they tend to be soothing and have a calming effect. Bright colors such as bright red or yellow are unusual, and thus tend to grab our attention.

Exercise: Intuitive palette
a. Pick a card from the emotion deck
b. Now, using the same 3x3 matrix, try to create a palette that evokes the feeling on the card you drew, using six colors that are analogous and three colors as accents. Arrange them however you like.
- Note: Ask them to change the colors in their palette, not the palette. One guy got the word "old" and started ripping up his paint chips instead of trying to select colors!
- NOTE: While people are working on their palettes, collect the cards and make a list on a flip chart or whiteboard. Then go around the room and see if people can guess which word is represented by each palette.
c. Go around the room and discuss. Discussion points:
- Have people guess the name of the palette
- How did you go about choosing your palette? Why did you choose the colors you did?
- Was it easy or hard for you? Why?
- What kinds of projects would this palette be good for? Why?

5. Culture, symbolism and color
People make a big deal out of this and show great concern over it, but in my experience (says Dave) the people who are most concerned have little experience with other cultures. I say, be thoughtful, but don't worry too much about this. Coke cans are red all over the world and, for better or worse, most people I have spoken with tend to accept, or at least understand, western interpretations of the meaning of color. And traffic lights are red, yellow and green all over the world, and have the same meaning everywhere. However here is a list that may be useful for consideration but is in no way comprehensive or authoritative:

China: Good luck, celebration, summoning
Cherokees: Success, triumph
India: Purity
South Africa: Color of mourning
Russia: Bolsheviks and Communism
Eastern: Worn by brides
Western: Excitement, danger, love, passion, stop, Christmas (with green)

Ireland: eligious (Protestants)
Western: Halloween (with black), creativity, autumn

China: Nourishing
Egypt: Color of mourning
Japan: Courage
India: Merchants
Western: Hope, hazards, coward

China: Green hats indicate a man's wife is cheating on him, exorcism
India: Islam
Ireland: Symbol of the entire country
Western: Spring, new birth, go, Saint Patrick's Day, Christmas (with red), envy

Cherokees: Defeat, trouble
Iran: Color of heaven and spirituality
Western: Depression, sadness, conservative, corporate, "something blue" bridal tradition

Thailand: Color of mourning (widows)
Western: Royalty

Japan: White carnation symbolizes death
Eastern: Funerals
Western: Brides, angels, good guys, hospitals, doctors, peace (white dove)

China: Color for young boys
Western: Funerals, death, Halloween (with orange), bad guys, rebellion

Discussion points:
- Can you think of a time you interpreted a color differently than someone else? What happened?
- Discuss the pros and cons of color-coding? What are the opportunities? What are the perils?
- Ask anyone who has experienced cultures other than their own talk about things they have noticed about the color sensibilities of other cultures

6. Experimental approach
One of the best ways to discover new color combinations is simply to experiment.

Exercise: Color soduku

a. Pick nine colors and arrange them in a matrix such that the three colors in any row or column are similar in some way. Use any definition of similarity that you might like, conceptual as well as physical.
b. Look at your palette and try to give it a name that represents its feeling/mood

Discussion points:
- Describe your color choices and how you set the rules for yourself
- What name did you give your color? Why?

7. Limited palette:
When you're uncomfortable with color, sometimes the best approach is to limit your options. This is called a limited palette. Forcing yourself to work within tight constraints can help you understand what small amounts of color are truly capable of. You can start working with a limited palette and gradually add more colors as you go.

Exercise: Limited palette

a. Choose another emotion card from the deck
b. Pick three and only three colors that will evoke that emotion
c. Go around the room and have people guess what emotion the colors represent.Pay special attention to the differences.

Discussion point:
- What insights did you have as people tried to guess the meaning of the colors?

Exercise: Color palette design
a. Have everyone in the room create a 3x3 color palette for the piece
b. Have each person discuss their thinking/approach.

8. Reflection and close

Discussion points:
- What have you learned that you can apply tomorrow? What do you intend to do differently?
- Who are the recognized color experts within the group? Where could you go to find help/advice?
- How can we improve this color course?
- What else do you want to learn and explore?

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