Affective Design Theory Articles

5. Colour, Emotion and Attention

An article by Trevor van Gorp Colour is one aspect of an interface that prominently comes into play when we are discussing design and emotion for products, software and websites. As with anything that evokes emotion, there are both conscious and unconscious processes involved…

Generally speaking, emotion is evoked unconsciously by the colours of things that have consistently existed in our environment for millions of years. Due to unconscious associations based on evolution, certain dimensions of colour and shape can be linked with certain dimensions of emotion.

Colour is composed of various dimensions, or attributes. There are many systems for specifying colour, but a basic one that relates both to how humans perceive colour and how computers display it, is HSV or Hue, Saturation Value.

  • Hue: the colour type (such as red, blue, or yellow)
  • Saturation: the vibrancy or purity of the colour
  • Value: the brightness of the color

According to Fehrman and Fehrman, the saturation and value attributes of colour can be linked with physiological arousal in the body, independent of hue. Arousal is related to a number of other terms, including activation, stimulation, anxiety, attention and motivation. What this means is that the value and saturation of a colour are more important in terms of the amount of attention we are able to summon than how much we like or dislike the colour.

Contrast and AttentionA clear example of this can be seen on this page. With no hue, the value and saturation levels of the text you are reading gives that text contrast against the background of the page and therefore initially draws your attention more than text in a very light value. Thinking of emotion in this way may seem odd, but when you consider that people cannot make make simple decisions without the feedback provided by feelings and emotion (Damasio), it seems to become more obvious.

PREVIOUS: 4. Value, Arousal and Emotional Expressions
3. Emotions, Moods, Sentiments and Personality Traits
2. The Influence of Emotional Affect
1. An Introduction to Emotions
Coming Soon: All About Design for Emotion

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Originally published: Nov. 13, 2006

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