Color, emotion and crowdsourcing?

Color is perhaps the most powerful tool that designers have to express emotion.

The Coen brothers famously used a cool, blue-green cast in the movie Fargo to convey the cold of both a North Dakota winter and of some of their characters' psyches.

This is in part because colors and emotions have strong connections for all of us. Based on shared experiences, we’re all intuitively familiar with the association between the red glow of a fire and the feeling of “heat” or “danger.” Artists have long relied on these basic color associations to make us feel a variety of emotions in response to their work. Filmmakers, for example, know that adding a blue-ish tinge to a wintery scene can convey to their audience a sense of the icy temperatures that their characters must be experiencing (see: Fargo).

Given these kinds of shared experiences, the colors for the broad strokes– basic feelings like “hot,” “cold” and “cheerful”– result in similar associations all of us. But what about subtler expressions? What are the colors that represent “music,” or “surprise” or “honor?”

A new website, Cymbolism, created by designer Mubashar Iqbal offers designers an interesting way to decode these subtler shades of meaning using crowdsourcing. The result is sort of like a combined dictionary and thesaurus for color. Using the tool, designers can look up individual words to find out which colors are most strongly associated or see what we collectively think about when we see a given color. This could prove truly useful by reducing guesswork and the need for extensive testing of new designs.

Cymbolism is like a combined dictionary and thesaurus for color.

The best part though is that you get to vote. On the homepage, you’ll be presented with a dictionary definition and a field of colors to choose from. With each choice you are shown how your response stacks up against the rest of the crowd. I found my associations were mostly in line with a few exceptions– apparently I think “music” is green while most people seem to see blue.

It may not be entirely scientific but it’s certainly fun to play around with and it may just help you solve a tricky color design problem.