You can’t rely on color, yet we all do 2.0

F.L van Nes

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionAcademicpeer-review


Everybody views and uses color from early childhood onwards. But this magnificent property of all objects around us turns out to be elusive if you try to specify it and communicate it to another person. Also, people often don’t know what effects color may have under different conditions. However, color is so important and omnipresent, that people can hardly avoid to 'rely on it' – so they do, in particular on its predictability. Thus, there is a discrepancy between the seeming self-evidence of color and the difficulty in specifying it accurately, for the prevailing circumstances. In order to analyze this situation, and possibly remedy it, a short historic perspective of the utilization and specification of color is given. The 'utilization' includes the emotional effects of color, which are important in, for instance, interior decorating but also play a role in literature and religion. 'Specification' begins with the early efforts by scientists, philosophers and artists to bring some order and understanding in what was observed with and while using color. Color has a number of basic functions: embellishment; attracting attention; coding; and bringing order in text by causing text parts presented in the same color to be judged as belonging together. People with a profession that involves color choices for many others, such as designers and manufacturers of products, including electronic visual displays, should have a fairly thorough knowledge of colorimetry and color perception. Unfortunately, they often don’t, simply because for 'practitioners' whose work involves different aspects, applying color being only one of those, the available tools for specifying and applying color turn out to be too difficult to use. Two consequences of an insufficient knowledge of the effects color may have are given here. The first of these consequences, on color blindness, relates to 8% of the population, but the second one, on reading colored text, bears on everyone. Practical guidance is given, especially on color and legibility. Anyway, the available tools mentioned, such as chromaticity diagrams and color spaces, are mainly the responsibility of the CIE. It would therefore be a laudable initiative if the CIE would not only refine their present systems, but devote some time and energy to the development of a simpler color specification and measurement system. With that it would be worth trying ergonomics research principles, to begin with end-user involvement: investigating what color science practitioners really want and need.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationColor Imaging XIX
Subtitle of host publicationdisplaying, processing, hardcopy, and applications
EditorsED.R. Eschbach, G.G. Marcu, A. Rizzi
Place of Publicationsan francisco
Number of pages7
ISBN (Print)9780819494252
Publication statusPublished - 3 Feb 2014
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'You can’t rely on color, yet we all do 2.0'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this