I have colored-grapheme synesthesia, which means that I perceive letters, numbers and many symbols as having an inherent color—and not just any color, but a very specific hue that has remained consistent my entire life. I have a positive or negative reaction to certain words and number combinations based strictly on how well or how poorly their colors combine. I notice this the most when it comes to proper names.
Does it make sense that I like the name “Jefferey,” but don’t care for “Geoffrey”? It’s just that “J” is a much more pleasant shade of purple than is “G,” and that goose-egg-colored “O” throws the whole palette off.
I briefly ran a small website on this topic, and I met some of the most interesting individuals. Each person’s experience of synesthesia is subjective, just as each person’s perception of color is unique. If you’ve ever tried to buy something online based on its described color, you’ve experienced this in potentially painful ways. When it comes to a color like “blue-green,” it seems one person’s turquoise is another’s emerald.
Online tests and anecdotal evidence suggest that I have extraordinary color perception. And yet, my red-green “colorblind” partner can see reds in places I cannot. My youngest son and I regularly disagree about what exactly counts as green. I recall that as a child, I saw gray where my cousin perceived vivid blue. Blue was a color that bored me then; now I count many of its endless shades among my favorites.
The Psychology of Color
A lot of time, money and effort go into studying how we perceive color, and its effects on our behavior. Pantone’s “Viva Magenta,” which inspired my “Mad for Magenta” collection, didn’t happen on a whim. Pantone color experts studied fashion and design trends, consumer habits, socio-political issues and even the weather when deciding on their Color of the Year.
Restaurants, hospitals, schools, libraries, and all sorts of public and private spaces are often designed with the psychology of color in mind—and when they aren’t, the consequences can be dire.
- In 2012, the government of Japan spent $1.5 billion on a new hospital, only to find that the color scheme used in the facility was causing patients to feel depressed and anxious. The predominantly white and beige colors were replaced with more calming and soothing colors to improve patient experience.
- In the 1970s, a prison in Texas painted its walls pink in an effort to calm its inmates. The opposite effect was observed and the pink walls caused prisoners to become even more agitated and aggressive.
- In 2009, the Toronto Transit Commission introduced a new color scheme for its streetcars, which included a bright green color for the seats. However, this color was quickly found to be unappealing and difficult to keep clean, leading to a negative perception of the transit system.
- In the early 2000s, the Swedish government painted an entire town in bright colors in an attempt to improve the mood of its residents. But the garish colors were quickly found to be overwhelming and caused headaches and nausea for many people living in the town.
Designing with Color
Color is the first element of most of my designs. I’ll find myself captivated by the hue of a particular bead or focal, and compelled to combine it with its most complementary companions. Beads, findings and settings all have to play well together, and this doesn’t always mean they “match.” I’ve got a hankering to expand the magenta lines into something combining the color with bright lime green—like young cyclamen plants blossoming in the earliest days of spring.
As I previewed in I Cleaned My Room, the colors for my summer collections are inspired by the forest and the sea. I’m combining aquamarine and pearls with brilliant blue Czech glass beads and silver findings. Malachite and bronzite, moss agate and emeralds combined with copper evoke the deep colors of a woodland path.
Are you captivated by color? If so, I hope you’ll join me as I explore the many ways that color can enhance our lives.