Monday, September 2, 2013

"Color Is Like Sex"

 Explore some ways we can benefit from our use of color around the house.

I'm a journalist specializing in design, color and visual culture.


 

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Jude Stewart is a journalist and author, specializing in design, color and visual culture. She lives in Chicago, Illinois, and her first book, ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color will be released September 17, 2013.
How exactly do the colors in a room act upon us emotionally? It’s a riddle whose answer variously depends on the expert you ask, from cognitive psychologists to cultural anthropologists (and, of course, color consultants).

As a writer about visual culture, my approach to color starts with a question my readers — graphic designers — face with every new project: Since nobody is inventing new colors, how to reach back into that same finite universe of shades and create a brand-new, dynamite color palette? How can you really see color afresh again?
“The eye has to travel,” says fashion icon Diana Vreeland (incidentally providing the title to the documentary about her life). Whether in clothes, logos or interior design, color strings along the magical thread that pulls the eye, tugs on your feelings and catalyzes thoughts, actions and mental states. But how on earth does color do that?
Tackling that question requires a bit of willful estrangement. I love this quote about color from Stephen Drucker (pictured here in an illustration by Oliver Munday) His point: Reawakening the eye to color first requires reawakening the brain.
Red and blue

Let’s start with an age-old color pairing, red versus blue, and these colors' potential atmospheric effects in a home office. Cognitive psychologists think red rooms make people working in them more accurate and cautious, while blue rooms turn their inhabitants more creatively loose — so claims a 2009 study in the journal Science, not for the first time.
Red and blue cast their opposing spells in other contexts, too. The same New York Times article recounting the Science study points out earlier studies in which Olympic teams wearing red uniforms enjoy a statistically significant edge over those clad in blue. Red answer-booklet covers on IQ tests can make us antsy enough to drag down our scores.
The takeaway for interior designers: Try playing both angles at once, as in this Mountain View, California, home office. With contrasting blue-ish and red walls, occupants can swivel from a laser-focused mindset at work (red) to sweating it out after-hours on the treadmill, letting the imagination romp while gazing at blue walls.
Colors for rest

What bedroom color promotes restfulness? ATravelodge survey of 2,000 U.K. homes looked into how the color of bedrooms impacts quality and duration of sleep. Blue was the clear winner: blue-drenched sleepers clock in an average of seven hours and 52 minutes of nightly shut-eye.

Those exhausted denizens of purple bedrooms owe the bruise-colored circles under their eyes to their wall color: purple supposedly affords sleepers a measly five hours and 56 minutes of sleep nightly. The lesson for interior design buffs seems clear: if your heart beats faster at the thought of violet, keep those sleep-estranging dabs of purple concentrated into accent pieces, not wrapping entire walls.
Pink power

Can the color pink actually weaken us? I love the story of Baker-Miller Pink — more colloquially known as “Drunk Tank Pink” — because it’s one of those pseudo-scientific “facts” about color in which proving its validity feels beside the point; the most intriguing part lies in our all-too-human enthusiasm to spin plausible stories around the idea.

Recently I interviewed Adam Alter, author ofDrunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel and Behave. He summarizes the color’s irresistible reputation best. Alter’s book’s title stems from a 1979 psychiatric study in which 150 young men gazed at a card colored either blue or pink, then took a strength test. These results were compared with a baseline strength test they had taken without colored cards. The blue-gazing group apparently amplified their strength, while the pink-starers seemed weakened just by looking at pink.

Pink’s tranquilizing effect gained currency among psychologists in the ensuing decade, inspiring two corrections officers, Gene Baker and Ron Miller, to paint holding cells in their respective facilities a bubble-gum shade.

When both reported a calming effect on rowdy inmates, Baker-Miller Pink, aka Drunk Tank Pink, became a prison industry brainwave. If Drunk Tank Pink mollified those who needed subduing, it electrified those who wielded the color’s supposed power: charity workers wore pink and reported increased donations as a result, while football coaches in Iowa and Texas painted the competition’s locker room pink, hopefully debilitating the enemy team.
There are often contradictory or surprising stories lurking within the colors we think we know so well. Pink is a fantastic case in point.

As I’ll explain in the next part in this two-part series, pink’s firm association with girls is actually a recent phenomenon, a deeply ironic one in fact. (It’s also likely a self-fulfilling effect at play in Drunk Tank Pink’s story.) In fact, history argues against the strict blue-pink rule, and pink has a decidedly butch side.

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