Lesson 8 of 10
In Progress

Colour and function

Colour is more than just beauty. There is function in every colour and its context.

If colours are used in a way we are not used to see them, we might reject the colour combination or at least have a harder time accepting it. The picture below is quite dramatic, but it really proves the point.

The function and meaning of colour

Red in nature is usually a warning. I am dangerous. Stop! The combination of black and yellow is also a warning. A stop sign is therefore red, and many warning signs are black and yellow, or only yellow. 

Pink instead of yellow

What would happen to your perception of danger if we were to make crime scene tape pink? Would you stay away? Probably not. In fact, you would probably be tempted to pass…

Colour is always beauty and function

We use colours to make things more attractive. But the function of colours is equally important.

In public spaces, for example, we use colour to make it clear where the floor is, where the wall begins, where the doors are, how to find a toilet, where to walk, where the emergency exits are, etc. This is the function of colour. But also use colour as a function when it comes to navigation. How to find the way in a hospital, finding your way in the subway, both through colour navigation for different subway lines, but also navigation on the ground. Also, navigation in your phone on how to reach your destination, is marked in colour. 

Navigation with colours could also be used in larger parking garage, to make it easier for customers to remember where they parked their car. 

Is it always okay to play around with colours?

By using colours you can create shapes without altering an object. It is fascinating what you can create with colours! If you have a public space with a function for a lot of people to be in, work and visit, it is important to understand that some colour compositions may create a sense of unease.

This is a hospital, the radiology department. It’s a place for people who are sick. And a lot of the time they are probably scared and don’t know exactly what’s going to happen to them.

Should this really be a place where you play around with colours and function? So the floor doesn’t look flat, for example. Could the result of these colour choices actually make them feel more uneasy and scared of what’s to come? 

Creating colour pollution?

Even though we love colour, we must sometimes be careful not to use too many colours or too many chromatic colours at the same time. It can cause a strong reaction, like this hotel room in the picture above. 

The use of colour in design is not equal to using strong colours. It is equal to a conscious choice about which colour to use. It can be white, it can be red or blue, but the choice should always be both intuitive and rational for a balanced and harmonious design.