What Is Color and How Do We Use Them?

Five women wondering what color is on isolated colorful background

When we consider what color is, we invariably go back to the explanation first given by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666. Color is a part of the electromagnetic spectrum and has always been so. Color is immediate: it conveys emotions and, to many people, it helps make decisions. Ask people what they think color is and chances are you will get the answer: color is memorable and emotional.

Let us have a closer look at what color is

To understand what color is, let us consider how Newton studied the concept. He basically passed a narrow beam of sunlight through a prism placed in a dark room. On the other end, on a white screen, the visible spectrum including red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet were visible. While it was already known that the light passed would show the rainbow colors, Newton’s experiment showed what color is and how each color bent at certain angles. White light passed through a second prism changed all the visible colors back to white light.

Thus, it is now known that when we consider what color is, we get the answer that light is the only source of color. An object depicts certain colors because it merely throws back, absorbs and emits one or more colors that make up light.

We cannot determine what color is without considering these three factors:

  1. Light – the main source of color
  2. The object – its material and its reaction to color
  3. The eye – the perceiver of color

To define what color is, we can say that it is a powerful medium that can motivate, persuade and inspire.

How colors affect us

Faces showing different emotions in a rainbow pattern. Anger, surprise, happiness, evilness, doubtful, sadness and disgust

Colors bring about an emotional response in each of us. They stimulate emotions and feelings subconsciously. Colors are important for understanding the world around us. They play an important role in our health and wellness too.

The human response to color is in the form of heart rate change, change in the pupils, blood pressure, stimulating of one’s mood and impressionistic, like making us feel whether certain food is healthy, appetizing etc.

Each of the colors of the visible spectrum represents a unique characteristic or personality. A great deal of study has been conducted on color psychology and this has thrown light on the benefits of using appropriate colors ‘to reflect the mood of the situation’.

How to use colors to evoke emotions

Woman using colors creatively on wall. Left and right brain sides.

All big brands in the world use specific colors to sell their products or services. The majority of the top car, computer, and food product manufacturers have spent millions of dollars to research which colors sell best. All of us ought to take a cue from these brands; look them over and see what emotions we feel when we see their products or websites. What are the emotions you ‘feel’ when you look at them? Do you feel calm, happy, content, hungry etc.

Another good way to understand what color is and use it right, is to observe and experiment. Try out different combinations of colors and understand which one makes you feel most satisfied. The chances are: if you like certain colors and feel happy using them, it means that likely others will enjoy them too.

Nature also helps us understand what color is and the best way to use it. When you see a beautiful brown wooden house on a green meadow with the blue-gold sky in the background, you naturally tend to feel very calm. The reason is that blue and gold make opposite colors and this soothes the senses. Try applying blue and gold to a website and see how you feel.

Be careful not to overuse them

Office workplace with colors coming out of laptop

Often people tend to overuse colors, especially when making data representations. This unfortunately undermines the values of colors. The fact is that people often have the misconception that “more colors and brighter design” is better. This is actually quite wrong. In fact, there are rules to using colors for websites, especially when making tables and graphs:

  1. Use color only when needed to serve a particular communication goal
  2. Use different colors only when representing differences of meaning in the data
  3. Use softer and more natural tones to display most of the information but darker shades when representing the most important information.

In conclusion

To answer the question about what color is: Color is science and art but it is also a language. It is a medium that can be used to express, but needs to be expressed only through ultimate exercise of control. Colors, when used right, can help create a comfortable environment for patients or those involved in patient care. Likewise, colors used in graphical representation and website design can help create a meaningful connection with the viewers. Experimenting is very important when it comes to choosing and using the right colors.