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24-08-2011, 11:22 AM   #1
Chirone
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Colour is meaningless
I did a presentation today on some stuff at work and one of the things I talked about was people have different ideals about how the world works and this affects the design of apps.

One of the things I mentioned as a trivial example of this was the colour of a play button in a transport control (the things with play, fast forward, rewind, etc) in an app targeted towards kids.
I said that on one side someone says it should be green and on the other side someone says it should match the design and colour of the rest of the user interface (so if all the other buttons are white then play should be white)

I then mentioned that you only want it to be green because we've been taught that green means go from the traffic lights, and that it's a grown up ideal, not a kiddy thing.
I then mentioned that colour doesn't carry any meaning. Green isn't always going to mean 'go' (in some cases it means eco friendly), red isn't always going to mean 'stop' (in some cases it means courage)

I also mentioned that play buttons aren't always white (google image 'play button' or look at your tv remote)

Because of this and because the meaning of colour depends on the context I am able to say it has no meaning. Meaning of colour is arbitrary. In my mind this makes colour meaningless and it only invokes emotion not meaning.

what do you guys think?
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24-08-2011, 11:49 AM   #2
gubar
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Interesting points Chirone. Semiotics is an interesting subject - wikipedia gives a better summary of it than I could:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semiotics

cheers

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24-08-2011, 12:21 PM   #3
bullet1968
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Interesting thoughts mate. I would ask why...did the colour green and red fall into the categories as explained...what was the motive behind it. Colours are then just visual indicators? for instance the wiki gubar linked...has hot and cold taps..blue and red..I assume in this particular case...blue was adopted for..the human perception of cold..(not green for go)...and red was our perception of heat?? This would be an interesting point from a blind persons perspective....as they have not actually had the pleasure through unfortunate circumstance to see colour. I will also ask...was the 'green' for go button and 'red' for stop button on machinery (like a press) allocated before the invention of traffic signals? if so, why? I think you are right though...in the end colour is meaningless and it comes down to a learned system? like taps...the left is cold, the right is hot..LOL unless your Dad plumbed the joint...interesting stuff.

It would be interesting to see in times gone past (pre industrial) what colours were used to represent things..and whether we have simply adopted them or created new ones.

Cheers bullet
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24-08-2011, 12:30 PM   #4
gubar
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"It would be interesting to see in times gone past (pre industrial) what colours were used to represent things..and whether we have simply adopted them or created new ones."

Here's an article on the tradition of dressing infant boys and girls in different colours, and how the colour/sex relationship has been reversed:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7817496.stm
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24-08-2011, 12:41 PM   #5
bullet1968
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wow gubar..LOL my boys might not like this article...he he he he heh e
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24-08-2011, 03:58 PM   #6
elephantinc
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It's a bit of a cliche but, like everything else, it's relative. A word only has meaning because it has been given meaning, a pencil is called a pencil because someone called it a pencil, chances are someone that has never seen a pencil before would never call it a pencil, something is only considered to be tall because it is taller than other things similar to it etc... The same applies to your example, a colour is only considered to mean go because someone said it did.
The problem is, because everything is like this, you can then say that nothing has a meaning a decide to just randomise all of the interface, random positions for buttons, random colours, random shapes. I guess you just have to go with what will mean the same thing to the largest number of people. (on an aside, why does a triangle mean go? That /really/ seams arbitrary but practically everyone knows it means this do it's still a good thing to use).


Although with regards to that specific example, red is often a warning in the natural world, if the fear of it is built i rather than learned (and if it applies to people too) then that colour would have meaning. Although even if it is learned then that's still meaning if the world is consistent about it (it always amazes me when the entire of the natural world has the same couple of colours that act as warnings, you'd think in isolated parts of the world a different colour might happen to become a warning (although perhaps how much it stands out makes a difference too)).
I think there are other examples where almost anyone would infer the same meaning from the colour of it. Say if you had one of those torch apps and you could control the brightness with a slider that is black at one end and a much brighter colour at the other (say bright yellow or white) and I think no matter how stupid or young the person (as long as they were unstupid enough to at least know what they are trying to do (in this case change the brightness) they would still assume a lighter colour would make it brighter and a darker one would make it darker.

I think the boldness/how bright they are (or wether they are a different colour to the rest of the app) would still make a difference to anyone as it might make them stand out more or less. Using this you could draw peoples' attention to a specific element.


P.S. Yay for spelling colour correctly

Last edited by elephantinc; 24-08-2011 at 04:08 PM.
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25-08-2011, 11:36 AM   #7
murambi
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are you sure its not color.............. lol
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26-08-2011, 10:12 PM   #8
Chirone
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Gubar: nice finds. Quite interesting.
It is quite odd I guess given that blue tends to invoke a cooler calmer emotion and pink, being a hot colour, and perhaps invoking a more aggressive(?) emotion (is this true for everyone or was this somehow programmed into us?) that we give pink to girls and blue to boys.

Bullet: yeah, i think I've seen cold on the right and hot on the left in my house, so position is pretty arbitrary or there just weren't standards back when the house was built.
It would be interesting to know which things still suffer from legacy decisions

Elephantinc: a word has meaning because we gave it meaning yes, but being a non-real-world thing (in this case I use the term non-real-world to mean if you remove all humans from the planet then such things do not exist) it's on a different angle to colour. Where colour is real and words are not words carry meaning and will always have meaning. You can call a tree a tree in english and a ki in japanese, these words will always have the abstract meaning of 'something that starts with a root and branches out with no cycles'

the shape given to play buttons might not be so arbitrary though. an arrow indicates that something should go in that direction (eg, your focus, you yourself, or a film that's on a reel). so the triangle points in the direction that the film or tape will move. A stop button is square because you stop something and now you're just looking at that frame which appears square. record is a red circle probably because recording lights in studios were red light bulbs. and pause... who knows... it's like.. the black sheep of transport shapes
You can argue that the shapes are meaningless but shapes can have a more solid explanation to them.

Quote:
are you sure its not color.............. lol

yeah... nah bro, colour and color are interchangeable the same way honour and honor are (ie, depends on where in the world you are)
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27-08-2011, 08:05 PM   #9
murambi
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I know was just messing around we use the british system for our education here
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21-09-2011, 01:59 AM   #10
twisteddragon33
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I get told regularly at work i misspell favourite, colour, and so on... Of course i work in the USA so it is frowned on. Guess i just read too many books by British authors. But i do fine when i have to deal with our UK offices.

I agree with color being subjective. As someone who is partially colorblind, and my grandfather was monochromatically colorblind(only saw in grey scale) it is difficult to talk to someone about color when my interpretation of colours vary from theirs sometimes greatly.
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