Color Combinations that Tax the Brain

Eye glasses looking to city view, focused on glasses lens

Easy on the Eye

Humans are creative beings, and one of our favorite ways to express ourselves is through words.

Words can bring sweetness to the soul, arouse dormant hunger, or give voice to beauty in the world.

That’s why names are such serious business. How much thought do we give to naming a pet? Or a child? Beautiful names can bring a charming nostalgia or an air of sophistication to the bearer.

But while some names are sweet on the ear, they don’t translate well for the eye, causing potentially years of frustration for your grade-schooler (or your veterinarian!).

Here are five names that are fun for the ear but a nightmare for the eye:

Eulalia (Yu-LAY-Lia), like the mayor’s wife in The Music Man

Azaiah (Az-EYE-ah), which has rocketed in popularity since 2000

Grigoriy (Grig-OR-y), a Russian variant of Gregory, meaning “vigilant or watchful”

Bludeuwedd (Bloo-da-e-wedd), referenced in Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, a Welsh name meaning “face of flowers”

Aelwen (Eisel-wen), originating in England, with versions of the name in J.R.R. Tolkien’s literature

Color Combinations that Tax the Brain

Some things are beautiful in concept but difficult in reality.

Similarly, certain images or color combinations are challenging for your eyes as well!

Have you ever seen a website that seems to chafe your eyeballs? A fabric pattern that makes you intrinsically recoil? This is actually not just a “tacky” color combination, it is a brain hijack: your brain gets misled into viewing these colors in 3D. Some colors appear to recede, while others float forward.

For example, the combination of blue and red can be very difficult for the eye to process. One color may jump out while the other appears buried or muted. This effect, referred to as chromostereopsis, was first noted by Goethe in his Farbenlehre (Theory of Colours).

Goethe recognized blue as a receding color and yellow/red as a protruding or dominant force, arguing that, “like we see the high sky, the faraway mountains, as blue, in the same way, a blue field (also) seems to recede.” This phenomenon explains the visual science behind how we perceive colors and objects and is extremely important when you consider layouts and color combinations for print.

Some Important Color Takeaways

As you choose color combinations, here are some chromostereopsis design takeaways to consider:

  • Avoid putting blue and red (or green and red) near each other on a page or screen.
  • Avoid putting blue or green text on a red background (or red/green text on a blue background).
  • If the color combinations you’re using seem obnoxious, adjust the hue or filters to mute more jarring pure tones.
  • Separate contrasting colors, either spatially or semantically (like using lines or charts to divide them). This will prevent viewers from having to pay attention to items of both colors at the same time.
  • If you want to use chromostereopsis to your advantage, try using a jarring color combination in the background with a contrasting color on top (like white text on a black and red background, as we see here).

When the dynamics of good design are utilized, viewers will look at your images longer and perceive your ideas more clearly. So, stretch your designs but don’t strain their brains! Get free brain advice from Patti by calling 410-574-0780.

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