Color: In the Context of Nature

I’ve found that The Complete Color Harmony (Eiseman) has a sort of emotional intelligence that is, well, remarkable to behold in a book about colors. I genuinely find – and I mean this as a compliment – that many of its most interesting passages are ripped straight out of a Psychology 101 textbook.

It makes sense. Colors are associated with emotion and feeling. Looking at a blue sky can trigger calmness; green can induce jealousy, and so on. Experiments have demonstrated that people associate red with power, pink with romance and orange with physical attraction.

What’s fascinating is that these emotions for colors are strongly associated with the world around us. Indeed, the emotions we feel when observing certain colors are actually correlated with the emotions we feel when observing the natural occurrences of those colors. Color is emotive due to its connection to nature.

The color red is associated with power, aggression and intensity as it appears in the face of people experiencing anger or rage. Furthermore, it is commonly seen on stop signs and posters encouraging caution (not “natural”, yes, but the precedent for red as a system of warning dates back centuries). The similarity between these two situations demonstrates a certain shared physical characteristic of redness with intense emotions.

On the other hand, the color pink has been associated with romance because it is often found on flowers and other objects that are considered beautiful or pleasing by many cultures around the world. The color blue, the color of still, clean water, gives us a sense of peace. It makes us want to kick back and stay a while. It seems that our evolutionary history, cemented by our long-standing connection to the natural world, can give us clues as to why we might feel a certain way about certain colors.

Considering how this applies to me and my career… it’s important to recognize how amazing it is that we, as human beings, share in our common affinity for the natural world. Design is about empathy, so it makes sense to design based on our shared natural understandings – including our shared emotional response to color.

Eiseman, Leatrice. The Complete Color Harmony, Pantone Edition (p. 31). Rockport Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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