Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Color culture

Starting a New Year on our Gregorian Calendar brings up reminders of the other new year celebrations around the world. Chinese New Year later in January, Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) in early fall, or the Islamic New Year which moves around the calendar every year. It got us here at Colour Studio thinking about the color of all those different celebrations. What significance is hidden behind the chosen colors, and how do they differ from ours here at home?

We found this beautiful iris of information from David McCandleness over at Information is Beautiful and They whipped it up back in April of 09. You can see their sources here.

The first thing to pop out upon reading is the closer the concepts are to natural phenomenon the more consistent the color associations are across cultures. We pretty much agree about the color of heat (41) and cold (10), and why not, fire and ice come from nature conveniently color coded. Evil (24), with its associations with the fear and danger of night, is just plain black; while passion (62) and eroticism (22) share the spectrum with red hot heat. Growth (37) is left pure green and squarely in the domain of plants; earthy (20) is brown, and even illness's (44) yellow elicits jaundice skin.

Two examples of color consistency with out direct natural equivalent are jealousy (49), which is all green, and truce (79), which is all white. These represent powerful cultural memes which have likely spread from one culture to the next replacing previous color symbology or maybe just filling in gaps.

As we get in to the more intangible concepts the color cultures diverge. Death (16), for example, is represented mainly as black or white, similar in their lack of hue if opposite in brightness and saturation.  Or take anger (1), which trends toward red but also includes black, perhaps a mix of heat and evil. No one can agree on intelligence (46), love (53), or wisdom (84).

But what would you pick if we were starting our color symbology from scratch? Here are a few of our favorites.

- Emily Eifler, Associate Designer, Colour Studio
- Jill Pilaroscia, Principal, Colour Studio

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