Understanding how we react to colour

"Colour is a visual experience, not a scientific one... The fact that there is no objectivity in colour is a blessing." Hella Jongerius

As we begin to explore the numerous shades of green, and how we each react to colour from a personal viewpoint, we understand how individual perceptions of 'green' can be quite different. In this article take a brief looks at some of the many things that effect how we react to colour. 

There are millions of colours

Describing colours using phrases such as ‘green is relaxing’ may have much truth to it, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Yes, green is relaxing for many people, but, colour is a very personal thing, and not everyone's reaction is the same. For some, the preferred green to create a relaxing aesthetic may be a soft minty green, or a pale leaf green. For another, a rich forest green may have a more relaxing effect. There’s a whole spectrum of greens, from the softest, palest celadon to the brightest of limes. Any of these shades of green can create quite a different mood or atmosphere and trigger different emotional reactions for people. There is probably a green for everyone, it’s just a matter of finding the shade that resonates with you.

There are millions of colours in the world, and while each colour can be described according to a general family of colours, such as ‘green’, there are infinite variations in their saturation and brightness, resulting in millions of tints, shades and tones.

Colours in Combination

"The meaning of a colour can completely change when it is combined with another colour." Karen Haller.

Add to this, the notion that we rarely see single colours in isolation. Our perception of colours is usually a reaction to a combination of different colours at the same time. The combinations of colours that surround us every day create even more complex behavioural and emotional reactions. The proportions of colours combined, the tones of colours and how they interact with each other all impact our overall experience of colour. 

Colour Memories 

On top of physiological and emotional reactions to colour, we may also have personal learned memories of colours. These colour associations can have a powerful effect on how we respond to colours in the present moment. For example, if we’ve experienced a happy memory and linked this in our memory to a particular colour, this colour is likely to have positive connotations for us. On the contrary, if we have negative memories around a particular colour, we are less likely to favour this colour. Plus, there are cultural beliefs which affect our perception of colour. So as you can see, colour is indeed a complicated phenomenon. 

Colour and Light

Another consideration is light, whether natural light or artificial light. All colour is affected by light - colour is light. So how we are seeing these colours may change throughout the day and through the seasons. The more light there is available the more saturated the colour will appear. The less light, the more faded a colour will appear.

The quality of the light will also cast its effects - be it a strong midday, midsummer daylight, or dusk in midwinter, or a north easterly light, for example. As you can see, there are many variables that affect how we perceive and react to colour.

"When you really understand that each colour is changed by a changed environment, you eventually find that you have learned about life as well as about colour." Josef Albers

If you are intrigued by colour, and wish to understand more about how we engage with and respond to colour, you may be interested in our Online Colour Course. You can also explore our colour palettes on Instagram and join the conversation!