The Color of Science

Color has been a topic of intense interest and inquiry for hundreds if not thousands of years. Philosophers (Aristotle), poets (Goethe), physicists (Newton), and mathematicians (Schrödinger) have all contributed to our understanding about color. As a generalization, color science can be defined as “the quantification of our perception of color.”   At the Rochester Institute of Technology, Center for Imaging Science,  color research is on the cutting edge. In fact RIT has the only Master of Science program in the United States that is primarily focused on color.  The program takes an “interdisciplinary educational approach” to color encompassing physics, chemistry, physiology, statistics, computer science and psychology.

Current research projects at RIT are in “such diverse fields as medical data visualization, computer graphics and animation, art conservation, spectral and spatial measurements of materials, color printing, digital photography, motion picture and television, and modeling of our perceptions for use in defining color quality.” One featured project is all about what we look at and why. Current graduate student Susan Munn  is researching eye tracking in real world environments. Eye tracking is the science of understanding what attracts our eyes, and thus our attention. She is working on a portable headset the records in 3D what the subject is looking at in a scene. 

The Cheez-it box’s saturated red stands out but is that really the one you’d buy?

What does this have to do with color? The hope is that this technology will eventually be able to unobtrusively track shoppers behaviors in environments like a supermarket. Here is a video of the research in action. Imagine you are in front of a shelf full of brightly colored and cereal boxes. All of the cereals are vying for you attention simultaneously. Each of those companies have spent time and effort to design and color their packaging for best effect. But what can science tell them about what  is working? We can track what cereals people buy but now with Munn’s technology we can also see what the customer is looking at. Are people buying the most eye catching cereal or do they choose based on other criteria. 


“Color science is used in the design and control of most man-made  materials including textiles, coatings, and polymers and to specify such diverse materials as soil and wine.  It is used extensively in color reproduction including digital photography,  printing, desktop and projection display. As we begin the twenty first century, color science is ubiquitous.” Color science is all about how we see the world around us. The RIT Color Science Masters and Ph.D programs are helping us, both humans and computers, see the world in new ways.

– Emily Eifler, Writer, Colour Studio
– Jill Pilaroscia, Principal, Colour Studio


People and Their Places

Renzo Campisi, an Architect and Illustrator based in the UK, wrote an interesting article about the relationship between the color and design of spaces and the people who use them. But instead of focusing on the traffic flow or usefulness and configuration of the spaces he brought to the forefront the relationship between the color of the space and the colors the people who use the space wear. 
It’s not often that we consider what people will be wearing when color choices for buildings are made, but Campisi argues that we should. He exemplifies the argument with a set of illustrations. One the right hand side a high saturation building is filled with low saturation people and on the left stands a similar cartoon Victorian but now the people are richly colored and the interior is desaturated. 

His main point is summarized thus over at Saturated Space:

“Shouldn’t a school designed in the UK be different from a school designed in Italy, not only because of weather and orientation, urban fabric and location, but also because of its students’ uniforms? How do their spaces respond to the fact that in the UK, the students inhabiting the classrooms will be wearing uniforms (one singular, or binary of colours) while in Italy uniforms are not used at all (a patchwork quilt of colours)? Shouldn’t the foyer of a big office building be primed and ready to welcome and respond to the hordes of men wearing black, grey, blue suits and women wearing pastel colours?”

His idea brings out life that spaces have after they are forgotten by the architects who built them. This life is full of factors and people that contribute their own colors to the canvas. And while Campisi’s argument is thought provoking there is also the counter argument to be made. In a private school with uniforms the color choices of the students are obviously restricted and thus these spaces lend themselves to Campisi’s type of color consideration. However in the real world, like say here in San Francisco, the color choices of the working public change frequently over time and even with in the same office. His claim to “hordes of men wearing black, grey, blue suits and women wearing pastel colours” is long in the past, the business causal here at least has become far more diverse and frankly just casual.

Does your wardrobe factor in to how you paint you home? Does the color scheme of your office change how you dress? We want to know.

– Emily Eifler, Writer, Colour Studio
– Jill Pilaroscia, Principal, Colour Studio