Considerations for colour perception

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When designing interiors it’s important to consider how colours change under different conditions and when applied to different types of materials. Diane Geisler, vice president of marketing at Datacolor, shares her insights on colour management and matching.

What are some of the ways in which lighting, altitude and even noise can impact colour perception
The way humans perceive colour is highly subjective, and it can be influenced by a variety of factors. That’s why manufacturers and designers rely upon colour management to help them get colour right and accurately match colours. Physical factors that influence colour perception of the naked eye include light source, background, altitude and noise. Personal factors can also influence visual colour assessment, such as age, medications, memory and mood. 

Arguably, the most critical of these is light. The colour of a light source can be described by measuring the relative powers of various wavelengths. As these powers change, so does the way the light is reflected in our eyes, which affects the colour we perceive. Consider this: light we perceive as cool might cause the colour of flooring, carpeting or paint to appear more blue, while the same items may take on a more yellow hue when viewed under a warm light source. 

Background can alter colour perception by changing the way in which we evaluate and interpret colours, potentially resulting in optical illusions. For example, a light colour placed next to a darker colour will appear lighter by contrast with its surroundings – this is known as simultaneous contrast. 

Colour perception has also been shown to change in high altitudes. In fact, a study evaluating the impact of high altitude on mountain climbers found these individuals experienced vision changes and reduced colour discrimination at higher altitudes. 

Another consideration is noise. The relationship between noise and colour is complex and fascinating. For example, synesthesia is a well-known condition in which people can hear colours or experience other crossed senses. Although sound can trigger a colour, it’s not entirely clear whether it can also suppress colour perception. One study found a relationship between hue bias and several factors, including noise. 

How can designers plan ahead for these perception issues and select colours that will be interpreted as desired in their design context?
Getting colour right is surprisingly difficult. And for countless industries – including cruise line interiors – it’s fundamental to business. You certainly don’t want to find out that your carpeting doesn’t actually match the upholstery until after it’s installed, which could cost the project a significant amount of time and money. 

Designers should consult colour experts and implement appropriate digital colour management processes and technology to identify and rectify potential colour issues before they arise. Specialised software and equipment, like spectrophotometers, can bring objectivity and accuracy to the design process. These tools capture the spectral fingerprint of colours with the highest level of accuracy, helping to overcome the issues associated with visual colour evaluation, and also allowing colour data to be communicated across suppliers to ensure uniformity and repeatability.

When selecting samples, be especially cognizant of colour perception issues that may be caused by metamerism. Metamerism occurs when two samples appear to match under daylight viewing conditions, but do not match under other types of lighting, such as fluorescent, incandescent or LED. Another consideration when selecting samples is flare, which is when there is a change in the colour of a material when it is viewed under different light sources. Because of these factors, it is important to carefully select light sources and samples, so the end result is complementary.

What are some of the challenges of colour matching across material types (plastics, paints and coatings, textiles and other surfaces) and how can they be overcome?
A cruise liner interior can have thousands of components, all of which need to be coordinated. From carpeting and wood panels to paint and upholstery, there are countless materials that come together to create a cohesive design. This is far from a simple process because the colour composition required to achieve a match changes from one material to the next. Without the support of digital colour management, designers and cruise liners risk expensive delays and added costs associated with mismatched or incorrect materials that need to be reordered or replaced. Furthermore, multiple component and materials manufacturers must work together on a single interior design project, which can quickly lead to colour discrepancies that delay production, causing a chain reaction for everyone involved. 

Can you share some examples of how colour matching is used in interior design that might apply to the cruise line industry?
Digital colour management impacts the entire design workflow, from beginning to end. This process typically starts with some form of colour inspiration that drives a design. Some interior designers will use portable colour matching equipment that allows them to accurately capture the colour of everyday objects that inspire their designs. The captured data can be instantly matched to an existing library of colours or can be used to create new colour standards. This saves designers a lot of time, as they no longer need to sift through countless fan decks or colour standards in search of the perfect shade of paint or textile colour to match their inspiration. Not only does this streamline the colour selection process, but the portable equipment can also provide useful insight into complementary and coordinating colour options, creating harmony during the palette creation process. 

From there, designers can digitally transfer the colour data to their suppliers, allowing these manufacturers to easily and accurately develop the necessary colour formulas and create samples. During the product development and production process, digital colour communication can also help to reduce the number of physical samples needed, as some sample approvals and quality checks can occur digitally, thus saving time and resources. Having objective digital colour measurements ultimately helps to ensure product quality and consistency, even when coordinating between multiple suppliers and geographic regions. 

For any designer, the benefits are countless, and this is especially true when you consider the unique complexities of cruise line interior design. 

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About Author

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Marisa has been writing about transport design and the passenger experience since 2013 and is also a contributor to sister titles Aircraft Interiors International and Business Jet Interiors International. She has travelled the world extensively by car, plane, train and cruise liner.

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