Colour Vs Light… which is more important?
There is one question that I’m often asked and that is “what’s more important, colour or light?” It’s a question I’m asked by my colour & design students, design professionals, from the audience at design shows, even with lighting designers.
And my initial response is often met with surprise given I specialise in the field of Applied Colour Psychology. So keep reading and I’ll explain why…
I remember a few years back a designer calling me to say she had been at a trade show listening to an expert panel discussing “what is more important – colour or light?” Each of the panellists agreed that light is. Quite animated she said how she wished I’d been there because I would have seen ‘red’ and staunchly defended colour saying it is more important.
My reply that actually light is more important initially stunned and confused her until I explained why.
I wasn’t privy to the comments from that panel discussion but as I mentioned earlier what most people expect me to say because of my field is that colour is more important.
But the reality is you simply cannot see colour without there being light. You only have to turn the lights off at night and the colours on the objects you could see with the light on have now ‘disappeared’ in the darkness.
For us to have any chance of even experiencing colour we need three things;
- a light source
- a surface for the light source to bounce off and
- the human eye.
Once we see can the colour (thanks to there being light) it’s at this point that colour becomes the more important of the two.
Colour makes us feel something
This is the fascinating bit. When light strikes the human eye the varying wavelengths (which we see as colour) are converted into electrical impulses which pass through the same part of the brain governing our hormones and our endocrine system (the hypothalamus) which governs amongst other things our:
- sleeping and behavioural patterns
- nervous system
- body temperature
What this means is that colour isn’t something you just see. In psychological terms colour delivers an emotion experience. Whether you realise this or not you are always having a connection and responding to the colours in front of you.
When done well, light and colour create the perfect partnership. Together they can evoke positive thoughts, feelings and positive behaviours in any space influencing the experience of the customer in the restaurant or store, productivity in the workplace or wellbeing in the home.
Does this change your perception of how you use light to design? Or perhaps how you might approach using colour in a space depending on the lighting?
I’d love to know which you feel is more important. Pop your comments in the box below.
Wishing you a colourful day!
If you love colour and want to hang out with a group of colour lovers then come on over to The Colour Collective where colour lovers from all over the world share their passion and colour inspiration. Looking forward to welcoming you in.
First published 8th August 2017.
Updated with extracts from The Little Book of Colour, How to Use the Psychology of Colour to Transform Your Life.