Color as the essence of design

“I’ve simply got to have this”. These words are manna to the ears of any salesperson, job completed before the sales process started. Research has shown that customers frequently make purchase decisions in the first 90 seconds of viewing a product, based on their instinctive initial reaction to the product. And research further shows that upto 90 % of these snap judgements are made based solely on the color of the product (Singh, 2006).

Color psychology is a field of study that focuses on how colors affect perceptions, and hence behaviors. The red Ferrari remains an iconic car desired by every speedster. At one stage, more than 85 % of Ferraris sold were red in color. The LBD, or Little Black Dress, is another product defined by its color. Of course, one’s evening wear could be any color, but a little black dress is, well, a little black dress, and is a mandatory part of the well-dressed woman’s wardrobe ! At the other end of the spectrum, the red Coke logo and the blue Pepsi logo are synonymous with those products, and actual consumer preferences are very strong, even though in blind taste tests consumers may fail to pick out any difference.

When it comes to luxury brands, a consistent and all-encompassing color strategy results in a subtle but unconditional identification cue, reinforcing the brand presence for a viewer and brand authenticity for the buyer. Tiffany’s robin’s-egg blue color is a case in point. As is Burberry’s beige color and beige, red and black checks pattern or Hermès’ orange.

Color, and how we perceive it, is a mystery. An experiment conducted on social media in 2015, #thedress, revolved around people identifying the actual color of a dress – white and gold or blue and black or anything else altogether. People on either side of the aisle were equally convinced that they had the right answer. The interesting fact this exposes is that the brain does not process color in isolation. It processes color along with the ambient context (how colors interact with one another), and also the personal experiences, associations and memories stored in a person’s brain. in the context of the color of this dress, Wellesley neuroscientist Bevil Conway says "... Colour seems to have direct access to our emotions. Yet the way the brain calculates colour isn’t governed by simple rules: what looks like one colour to you can appear as a very different colour to me. It is this combination of factors – the emotional power of colour coupled with the inherent mystery in how colour is determined by the brain – that sparks our collective obsession with the colour of that dress."  In other words, to a certain extent, we see what we want to see.

Along with textures, shapes, lines and points, color is one of the elements of design. Different colors have different connotations in the human brain. Color can be used to establish a sense of harmony or a sense of energy or disruption in a design. By merely setting up how a color interacts with another in a living space, the space can become restful and harmonious or formal and professional.

Color is also an element of perception. When used consistently over a period of time, color differentiates a product, establishes brand USPs (as we saw in the case of Tiffany, Ferrari, LBD and Burberry above). So the robin’s-egg blue will always be associated with Tiffany and subliminally with luxury and taste. As seen from the example of Coke and Pepsi, color helps reinforce brand loyalty and drives sales.

Color hence lives at this intersection of design and perception, allowing one to customize one’s experience with a product. In living spaces, whether it be the rich leather brown or deep moss green 5-9 day bed from the Italian luxury brand Tacchini, or the intense blue suede cushions on the raw brown wood Stamford bench from Italian luxury furniture company Rossato, one is transported to a realm of elegance, premiumness and a fusion of contemporary heritage, generating an instant  “I’ve simply got to have this” response.