Color Fury: The Pitfalls and Shortcomings of “Color Psychology”

December 31st, 2008

The other day, my friend shared a color psychology article with me that sent me into a fury. These sorts of analyses do a massive disservice to the design process. Making business communication decisions based on this type of vague, myopic thought is about as useful making business decisions based on your monthly horoscope.

business horoscope

Color perception is highly complex. The human eye, in combination with the brain, is a complicated mechanism that allows humans to differentiate among millions of hues. There isn’t one red. There are many. How can it be sensible that all of these contain a singular, universal meaning?


Color’s cumulative impact on a viewer depends heavily on context. It is affected by countless other factors including coverage, adjacent colors, scale, shape and subject matter.

Assigning sets of predetermined meanings to a few colors does not create a formula for effective color use. It restricts the potential vocabulary for capable visual communication and inhibits a more integrated approach in which color cooperates with a variety of other visual elements.

This Won’t Hurt a Bit tattoo art show at Wootini

November 18th, 2008

Tucked discreetly among the home wares, trinkets and confectionaries of the boutique gift shop routine, Wootini kind of sneaks up on you. This art gallery and shop focuses on the Pop Pluralism movement, curating fresh, original work from local and national artists and also stocking a small, varied collection of books, clothing, designer vinyl figures and other toys.

Wootini storefront

Wootini’s latest show, This Won’t Hurt a Bit showcases rich iconography, dense decoration, inventive color explosions and carefully controlled brushwork. The show will be on display November 14th until December 8th.

Featured Artists include: Cory Rogers, Krooked Ken, Murray Sell, Glenn Wilson, Teddy Safarian, Matt Brotka, Paulie Andrews, Annie Frenze, Joe Lathe, Christian Beckman, Lana Wingo, and more.

tiger and dragon

Most of the show’s works adeptly maneuver the grounds of traditional tattoo style and iconography. There is also a persistent thread of conceptual invention throughout the works. Skulls are re-imagined with lacy Day of the Dead patterns, layered with imagery reminiscent of medical textbooks or even forged from the bodies of beautiful tattooed women. Artists skillfully pile eagles, blades, banners and dragons into unique configurations.


The art also thrives in its presentation and its translation from skin to paper. Subtly toothed paper boasts smooth decadent gradients, and metallic pigments quietly shimmer. Line work is confident and steady while also confessing the variance of a human hand. In a few instances, carefully chosen frames further distinguish works as exotic objects.

Thumbs up to Wootini for fusing commerce, imagination and artistry. This shop is definitely one of my favorite Triangle haunts. I look forward to their next show.

Obama ’08 – A Campaign with Graphic Consciousness

November 6th, 2008

I have been disappointed by the lack of imagination and sophistication demonstrated by America’s last few decades of political campaign graphics. Sure, convention and tradition are important thematic elements, and over time, this sector has developed its own visual rhetoric. Bold typography often touts a visual aggressiveness that rivals local television’s most grating used car commercials. These graphics focus on attributes such as strength and patriotism, constantly recycling a well-worn vocabulary of navy and red, flat palettes, flags and hasty, ill-conceived photography. What happened to solid graphic craftsmanship? What happened to using visual materials as a means of communicating your point of difference as a competitor?

Enter Obama ’08. This campaign showed a refreshing sense of graphic consciousness. Thoughtfully crafted visual materials consistently focused on the campaign’s mantra of change while also propelling Obama as a popular culture icon.

 Obama 08 logo

The Obama ’08 logo injects a fresh sense of graphic agility by incorporating a circular icon that echoed the “O” in the candidate’s name. A bright accent blue invigorates the expected patriotic palette. The repetition of curves and the addition of subtle gradients give the logo a contemporary air.

The campaign’s web materials extended the logo’s graphic prowess by applying the fresh color palette, designing carefully organized typography, selecting artful photography, including contemporary custom icons and using subtle gradients.

vote icon
Obama 08 website

When artists contributed time and talent to create campaign posters and images, the Obama campaign had the foresight to embrace these works. Shepard Fairey’s posters proliferated to become an unofficial icon for the campaign. Such efforts by artists allowed the campaign to tap into the inertia of the craft / DIY movement. They helped Obama to gain momentum as a popular culture icon while also inspiring co-creation and creative grassroots activism among other Obama followers.

Obama postes
Hope poster
Obama postes

This campaign serves as a fantastic case study for the design process. Often, it is tempting to generate design solutions by adhering to conventions and producing the expected. But, a little imagination and innovation can go a long way. Carefully crafted, original design solutions can help you improve communication with your audience – allowing you to communicate your message, not just a message.