What Your Favorite Color Says About You... and the World Around Us

What Your Favorite Color Says About You... and the World Around Us

Gregory Han
Sep 26, 2013

Have you ever stopped to wonder why barns are red, pencils are yellow, or prison garbs orange? Even more than words themselves, we're awash in colors everywhere, but we often don't give second thought about why specific colors have been chosen and what our own color preferences say about us...

The slideshow above by graphic designer, Oliver Munday, is amongst the many informative pages within Jude Stewart's ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color (just in case you need a refresher, "ROY G BIV" is not a person, but an aid used to recall the order of the colors of the rainbow: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet). The book sets out to decipher the meaning of color from both a cognitive and perceptive perspective: externally, as an observed phenomena in the world around us, and internally, revealing personality and behavioral traits revealed by our choices in colors.

The book is also filled with amusing and insightful quotes about color like this one, illustrating how experiences and meanings of color are not always universal:

Color is like sex. It's mysterious. It's unknowable. It never looks the same twice. No two people see the same thing. No two people feel the same thing. I once went to China on a cruise ship. Eight hundred of us got off the ship wearing white, because it feels festive and shippy and says "I'm on a cruise." In China white is the color of mourning. We looked insane.

- Stephen Drucker, Editor in Chief, House Beautiful

You'll also learn historical tidbits of trivia like how Indian Yellow paint pigment was once created using urine from cows fed nothing by mango leaves until a more pleasant synthetic alternative was created.

Another excellent book about color, this one more inspirational rather than informational, is Color Inspirations by Darius A. Monsef IV. The book is notable in that the content, over 3000 color palette combinations, are sourced from the online community COLOURlovers.com. In fact, the book includes a CD-ROM with all 3,286 color palette combos, including CMYK and HEX values for each color, which means any are usable as reference for interior and decorative use or as a website/desktop/mobile background.

If you're seeking insight about how color is used for (and sometimes against us) from a commercial standpoint, Leatrice Eiseman's Color - Messages & Meanings: A PANTONE Color Resource is a fascinating report about the physiological relationship we have with colors...and how they can be used to sell you "product X" or "idea Y" subconsciously through marketing, design, advertising, and retail. I used to refer to this book quite regularly in my previous profession as a print and industrial designer, but its usefulness extends far beyond the professional realm, offering anyone "ah-ha!" insight about color combinations in regards to both fashion and within the home.

Finally, if your love of colors needs a more interactive medium, there's the newly released Josef Albers Interaction of Color App for iPad, which takes the seminal 1963 book and turns it into a touch/swipe exploratory experience, illustrating Albers’s principles about seeing and understanding color using over 125 color plates in 60 interactive studies. 50 years later, the medium has changed, but the ideas Albers explored are still enlightening and heightened by its transference to an interactive screen.

And just in case you're curious, barns were traditionally red because farmers would use orange-colored linseed oil derived from the seeds of the flax plant with milk and lime to seal their wooden barns. The red came from the addition of ferrous oxide, or rust, a natural anti-fungal and moss treatment which would tint the mixture red. The appearance of colors in the world around us can be so wonderfully pragmatic that way.

(Images: Oliver Munday; as linked above)

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