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The Most Powerful Uses for Color

Photography: eccentric scholar

It’s hard to believe that a couple of thousand years ago, the world would have mostly been a handful of tones. Yellow was reserved for Chinese royals, purple was kept for Imperial togas, reds might have decorated posh Roman villas and black emphasized the eyes of Egyptian Pharoahs, but for everyone else, dyes were limited and expensive. Clothes were mostly available in different shades of natural.

Today of course, we’re surrounded by color, and software such as the ProPhoto RGB color space are capable of recording more tones than the eye can even see.

But just as the number of colors available has expanded so has the use of those colors.

Here are just some of the ways that color can most effectively brighten your life.

The Healing Powers of Color
It might sound very New Age, but using colors to heal the body goes back thousands of years. Ayurvedic medicine was certainly being practiced around 500BC, and holds that each of the seven chakras is associated with a color. Red, for example is the color of life and too much of it can make someone angry and stubborn; indigo helps with perception and, according to some people, can even stop bleeding.

Today’s chromotherapists take that idea even further, arguing that all living things vibrate at a particular frequency and that by shining colored lights on the skin it’s possible to aid the body’s healing processes.

If you’ve got a cold, for example, instead of sucking an orange, you could try soaking up orange.

Can it work? Like sugar pills, probably. But sitting in front of a lava lamp and focusing on the colored bubbles certainly won’t do you any harm.

Technicolor Mood Enhancers
Arguing that colored gels can cure diseases might be a claim too far but one solution offered by chromotherapists might have some substance.

Colors can make SAD people happy.

That’s not just people who happen to fell a little low today, but sufferers from Seasonal Affective Disorder — a fancy term for the winter blues. When daylight hours shrink and the sun drops out halfway up the sky, some people can find themselves feeling constantly depressed and lethargic.

Bathing in the warm glow of colored lights can restore some pep to their batteries, it’s believed.

Of course, you don’t have to be SAD to benefit from the mood-enhancing effects of colors. If red has you feeling energetic while blues and greens give a sense of relaxation, then changing rooms or looking at color charts might be enough to get you out of a rut and put you in the mood to create.

Organizing Color Schemes
The fact that colors look different to each other means, of course, that they’re great for organization. It’s certainly a lot easier to mark list items in different colors — as a way of showing their priority or to indicate how they need to be completed — than to re-create David Allen’s GTD system with its 43 folders and multiple action options.

But you need to be careful here.

Use more than three colors, whether it’s to highlight a book or mark your folders, and you can find that you end up with some nice-looking notes but no memory of what each color is supposed to mean.

That doesn’t mean you can never use more than three colors. But if you need to consult a key to remind yourself what the colors stand for, you’re probably missing the point.

Colors for Design
Yes, of course, color is a vital part of any design process and not just for aesthetics. If yellow alone marks a warning while red indicates danger, what are we to think of McDonalds’ garish color choice but as a way of forcing buyers to eat fast, leave and make room for more customers?

You might not want to make your surroundings look like a fast food bar but you can combine color schemes with organization to create a home or work space that’s both attractive and functional.

Most people, for example, arrange their bookshelves by subject or author. But what would happen if you organized them by color (as members of this Flickr group have done)? The books wouldn’t be any harder to find because you can usually remember what color the cover is supposed to be.

You’d also know exactly where to put them back when you take some volumes down and leave them on the desk.

And perhaps best of all, if you were feeling ill or just a bit low, you could lean back and focus on the shelf that makes you feel better.

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