Color is Subjective: All the Colors of the Internet Presentation at WordPress DC

None of these colors actually exist.
None of these colors actually exist.

You think you see color. You don’t. Color is subjective.

When you’re designing a web site there’s a moment when, inevitably, everyone argues about color. The blue is “too blue” or the pink is too “candy-colored” or the color palette of the page is “too corporate.”

While not a designer myself, I knew enough about design to recognize the absurdity of the situation. A bright color on a designer’s screen looked dull on my work PC. Which version was the right one?

At one place I worked at it, the test was just to make sure it looked good on the boss’s computer which ran Internet Explorer – didn’t matter anywhere else.

As a photographer, I see it with my photos. I use Safari as my web browser, in part, because my Flickr photos look best there. The colors seem dull in Firefox.

Beth Soderburg confirmed my suspicions about color with All the Colors of the Internet, her presentation to the August WordPress DC meetup. Go view all the slides. They’re fascinating, if you’re interested in design and human psychology.

Color is Subjective

None of us see color the same way. Beyond the fact that some people are color-blind, or can’t see certain colors, there’s also the fact that color doesn’t exist. It’s not a physical property, but just our perception based upon available light. Is your red vase still red in the dark?

Since color is subjective, designers should not depend on colors to convey information. A button that turns yellow when you click on it is not enough of a signal – not everyone can see that yellow. Use a checkmark or some other visual cue.

And if you’re a web designer, practice color acceptance. Your design may look perfect on your Mac with your calibrated display. But the colors are going to look different on a Droid. You’re just going to have to live with it.

Author: Joe Flood

Joe Flood is a writer, photographer and web person from Washington, DC. The author of several novels, Joe won the City Paper Fiction Competition in 2020. In his free time, he enjoys wandering about the city taking photos.

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