“What is color?” is the question I have asked each and every guest on my podcast ‘The Color AuthorityTM’ over the past three seasons. The answers to this question have been many but intriguingly enough most answered that color is life.

By Judith van Vliet

Color is many things indeed and when we look at color from a scientific point of view we tend to talk about color in terms of light – it has certain wavelengths in it, and the different mixture of wavelengths is what we perceive as color. Yet each and everyone of us interprets color differently so instead of seeing color in a physical object, it is about the story that our brains tell ourselves about what we think the color means. Does this sound mysterious to you? That is why color is often described often as a secret language that once deciphered, teaches you many things about life, yourself and others. We all communicate in color whether we are aware of it or not and once you tune into the colors you surround yourself with and those of others, the way you experience life may change.

The very unfortunate fact however is that our lives have become less colorful over the years. A recent study in the United Kingdom has showed how the colors grey, black and whites made up for about 15 percent of colors around 1800 whereas now they make up for over 50 percent of colors used in our direct environments. Is this because we are afraid to use color or is it because we do not speak color very well? I personally believe the answer lays merely in the latter. Throughout my professional and personal experience I saw that color is joy, passion, love, simply said; color is emotion and thus a powerful tool to enhance our living. But how can you bring color into your life and select above all, the right color?

One of the first questions to ask yourself when choosing a color is, what do I want to stand for? And this is not a question brand owners and designers only should ask themselves when designing a product or a space. Color has intrinsic effects on our human psyches and this is shown through research stating that color influences almost 85 percent of purchase decisions and that 95 percent of the times it is at a subconscious level.

Selecting the right shade however is more complex than one might think as each human being perceives color in a different way due to diverse factors such as gender, national origin, ethnicity, geographical location and what language we speak. Josef Albers experimented a lot with color and quoted “If one says ‘Red’ – the name of color – and there are fifty people listening, it can be expected that there will be fifty reds in their minds. And one can be sure that all these reds will be very different.” This underlines again how nothing about color is objective. Even though each color can elicit a different reaction among different people, there are universal connotations for each color that may set a basis for answering that question, what do I want to stand for? So before being able to answer that question and a particular color that question, one needs to know about the psychological effects of each color.

Before I start I think you should know that each color probably deserves an entire book written about its complexity and meaning but let us start with the basics. Now first things first, in color psychology 101, one learns that grey does not provoke any emotion as it is a true neutral, so unless you want to convey neutrality, grey may not be a great pick. Where does that leave then white and black, being the two colors that make up grey when mixed? The power of black speaks to experience, elegancy and knowledge but on an emotional level it could make you seem invisible. Also remember that black absorbs light and does not reflect light when you are decorating spaces. White is all about clarity, cleanliness and credibility. It is the color of that what is pure, airy but also at times, it may give a sterile look. White gives attention to shape, form and texture instead of color itself.

Yellow makes you stand out, it will grab the attention as it shines a light. Surround yourself with yellow and be ready to be seen. Yellow also is the color of intuition and allows for clarity of thinking. Orange is a true social color, as it connects, allows for communication and increases not only our appetite for food but also for adventure and creative experiences. Red is about excitement for life, it is energy and its effects are deeply rooted into our human psyches. Red is dominant, determined and irrepressible. Purple has been called the color of display and mystery. Reddish purples are perceived as warmer, more sensual, dynamic and exciting. Blueish violets stand for dignity and serenity. Green is the color of compassion and self-care, growth and balance. Green revitalises while also having a calming effect as green encourages us to breathe, literally replenishing ourselves with fresh oxygen. And then lastly, blue. Blue relaxes the mind, it pacifies our nervous systems where psychologically it stands for trust, all that is constant and reliable.

Color is complex, ever-changing, intriguing but once understood, so very powerful. So what color reflects what you stand for today?