Thursday, July 12, 2007

Understanding colour

Colour is one of those things that we tend to take for granted. And yet it plays a huge role in the way we perceive our surroundings, and is inextricably woven into the language we use.

Understanding just why colour is so important to humans has proven elusive. Is colour an objective part of reality, a property of objects with a status similar to shape and size? Or is it more like pain, something that only becomes real when experienced?

What we do know is that most people are very conservative about colour, usually because they know how horrible things look when the 'wrong' colours are juxtaposed. However, the science of matching colours is straightforward.

The simplest way to find colours that work together is to visit a web site like which will generate a variety of different combinations of colours based on a colour that you choose. It even has a menu that simulates a variety of visual limitations for the 15% of people who cannot see the 'normal' colour spectrum.

For 'instant' ideas and inspiration, Adobe's kuler web page offers a huge range of colour varieties, and you can even subscribe to an RSS feed that keeps you up-to-date with the latest additions. serves a similar purpose, with one advantage: the swatches can be downloaded as graphics files that are large enough to use as screen savers/wallpaper. I've made up a folder full of them, which I run as my screensaver and my screen's wallpaper. As well as being attractive, it also exposes me to a wide range of colour combinations that I might not otherwise consider.