We generally take for granted that color is absolute, and that everybody who can see and who isn't colorblind sees the exact same thing. The sky is blue; it is a known fact. But is my blue sky the same as yours?
That whole dress color episode, while annoying, launched some fascinating social media conversation on how human eyes see color. iPhone game Specimen: A Game About Color is a new, awesome example of how tech tools can create both fun and science around the various spectra of our perception.
The vivid, candy-hued app offers you a tray of shiny, vibrant color blobs and gives you a supposedly-simple task: Pick the one that's the same color as the background. The game tests and scores your ability to perceive spectra across Alpha, Beta, Gamma and so on—via social media you can easily compare scores with your friends. And it is definitely not as easy as you expect it to be at first. I made it to the Gamma stages when I first felt righteously deceived, confidently mistaking some hue of yellow for one slightly greener. The more you look at it, the harder it seems to get.
There's a full story in the Creator's Project talking to creator Erica Gorochow about the development of Specimen (I used to have a column in Creator's Project)—the app combines visual design, science and game design principles to turn average players into furiously-willing, delighted research participants:
The fact that Specimen is free only helps its cause, and the data collected from its users will hopefully shed light on various color perception patterns in society at large. For example, “Is there any indication that the US sees color differently than China or Germany or Brazil? Is there any specific color dominance or weakness when you compare men and women?” Gorochow asks. “I’m doubtful that the app can reveal a dataset that’s pristine enough to be conclusive, but I think with a certain volume of players, we might be able to find unexpected correlations.”
The stage structure and the ability to earn power-ups that can eliminate false choices or buy you more time to pick makes Specimen really solid as a game. Hand it off to a friend and within minutes they'll be cursing in awe and disbelief, and then you can brag that you see more of the Delta spectrum than they do, or something.
Get Specimen: A Game About Color for free on the App Store here. It'll work on an iPhone but not a tablet.
Steve Mould's colored flashlights (sometimes called "coloured torches" in distant lands) are useful props in this excellent 5-minute lecture on color mixing. I learned that magenta is not a color. Rather, it is the absence of green.
…it uses 6,400 spools, nearly seven miles of fabric, and thousands of motors and gears. Each “pixel” is actually a 5.5-foot strip of threaded material, each of which can display 36 colors depending on what part of each multicolored strip is showing on the front of the machine.
It was made by design agency Breakfast for retailer Forever 21. Here's some videos that goes into its creation and show how it does its thing.
Color dictionaries were designed to give people around the world a common vocabulary to describe the colors of everything from rocks and flowers to stars, birds, and postage stamps. They afforded scientists and naturalists a means of descriptive biological precision that could be easily shared—so naturalists in Kalamazoo and Germany could communicate effectively about a family of birds found in both places in related (but different) forms. They typically consisted of a set of color swatches, each assigned a name (usually rendered in several languages, to facilitate international use), an identifying number, and an often-lyrical description of the color (“the color of the blood of a freshly killed rabbit,” or “mummy brown.”)"How Red Is Dragon’s Blood?"
...The French Society of Chrysanthemists, for instance, created a two-volume set of swatches and names in 1905 for their own botanical uses. Holly Green was described as “the ordinary color of the foliage of the common holly, viewed from 1 to 2 meters away, and without considering reflections.” And despite the fact that the work was meant for international consumption, its soul remained French. “Sky Blue,” for example, was described as “The color reminiscent of pure sky, in summer (in the climate of Paris).”
If you've ever spent much time in American farm country, then you've probably noticed that there's a strong tradition there of coating barns and outbuildings with red paint. Why?
Because nuclear fusion.
Okay, the actual answer is simply because red paint has long been a cheap color to buy. But, explains Google engineer Yonatan Zunger, there is some really interesting physics lurking in the background of that price point.
What makes a cheap pigment? Obviously, that it’s plentiful. The red pigment that makes cheap paint is red ochre, which is just iron and oxygen. These are incredibly plentiful: the Earth’s crust is 6% iron and 30% oxygen. Oxygen is plentiful and affects the color of compounds it’s in by shaping them, but the real color is determined by the d-electrons of whatever attaches to it: red from iron, blues and greens from copper, a beautiful deep blue from cobalt, and so on. So if we know that good pigments will all come from elements in that big d-block in the middle, the real question is, why is one of these elements, iron, so much more common than all of the others? Why isn’t our world made mostly of, say, copper, or vanadium?
The answer, again, is nuclear fusion.
You can read the full story on Zunger's Google+ page. In my experience, white is another really common barn color, due to the fact that whitewash — a paint made from calcium hydroxide and chalk (which is also calcium) — is way cheap, as well. Calcium is also one of the most abundant elements in the Earth's crust ... clocking in at number 5, right under iron in the top 10. I'm sure there's some different science that accounts for the high concentrations of calcium on our planet, but the same principal applies. Cheap paint is paint made with abundant (and easily accessible) elements. And abundant elements happen because of physics.
Diana Eng's journey into an abandoned sulfur mine in a dormant volcano to view this season's most popular yellow color
Seeing this color in real life is kind of surreal, because it’s so vibrant, it looks unreal
A couple of years ago trend forecasters at Premiere Vision said a highlighter neon yellow would be a big color for Fall/Winter 2012. I’ve been seeing this color for a while at American Apparel which didn’t mean much since they cater to hipsters. But when I walked into the Gap this holiday season and saw neon yellow everywhere I knew that the self-fulfilling trend forecast had come true! How much do I love this type of yellow?
I visited an abandoned sulfur mine situated in the center of a dormant volcano on White Island to view a super concentrated neon yellow, sulfur. Yes, I like to stare at colors and vacation to spots of geological interest.
As part of the celebration for the 75th birthday of the Golden Gate Bridge, a group of artists led by Stephanie Syjuco have set up an imaginary gift shop for the Bridge, filled with tchotchkes in the bridge's iconic rusty orange (it's a custom color that is generally mixed in 500-gallon batches). The tchotchkes aren't for sale or anything -- they're just there as a kind of installation in celebration of that wonderful orange. Rachel Swaby covered the installation's opening for Wired:
It’s a souvenir store with a twist. “What is the most disconcerting is that there are no images on things,” says Syjuco. Apart from that iconic orange marking each and every object, there is no branding to speak off.”
The range of products on display is also slightly absurd: Pencils, keychains, and earrings sit atop a table. An Eames chair is perched on a stand to the left. Lined up on shelves against the back wall are mugs, pillows, plate sets, and bottles of unidentified red sauce. “I tried to overdo it,” says Syjuco. “There’s wine, deodorant, car air fresheners — it gets crazy.”
The Texas-based Warstic Wood Bat Company knows that "there are very few secrets to making a great wood baseball bat," they say. "It's about sourcing and selecting the best wood, craftsmanship, attention to detail and knowing how to achieve the right feel." But Warstic does the process one better by adding a dash of style, and even color, with their lines of Half Dip and Full Dip bats made from ash and maple.Warstic Wood Bat Company: Baseball Meets Pantone - Core77
This segment of an episode of Horizon, called "Do You See What I See?"
shows how language has an effect on how people see color, especially when comparing colors.
The Himba of northern Namibia categorize colors differently than English speakers. From an American Psychological Association article called "Hues and Views" :
In short, the range of stimuli that for Himba speakers comes to be categorized as "serandu" would be categorized in English as red, orange or pink. As another example, Himba children come to use one word, "zoozu," to embrace a variety of dark colors that English speakers would call dark blue, dark green, dark brown, dark purple, dark red or black.
Roberson and her colleagues explain that different languages have differing numbers of "basic color terms." English has 11 such terms, the same as in many of the world's major languages, and Himba has five, each of which covers a broader range of colors.
In a test, Himba were able to very quickly point out the standout color below:
It took me a long time to figure out which color was different (it complicates matters that the TV program pointed to the wrong square!). I used the eyedropper tool in Adobe Illustrator to confirm which square had the different color. Click here to see the RGB value for each square.
The Himba had a much harder time pointing out the square that English speakers would categorize as a shade of blue:
These findings are presented as if they’re new, but they’re based on the pioneering work of Paul Kay and Brent Berlin in 1969.
One of the challenges for me in getting used to the Yurmby color wheel is learning to recognize cyan and magenta as basic color terms, distinct from blue, green, and red.
Because I didn’t grow up with the terms “cyan” and “magenta,” it has taken me a few years to remap my brain, but now I routinely recognize cyan and magenta colors around me according to their own terms.
It would have been much easier if I had learned those color terms in kindergarten, but that would be like changing America to the metric system.