Colour in Theory and Practice

  • Werner Seiferlein
  • Rudolf KötterEmail author
  • Katrin Trautwein


As we have seen, colour is the interaction between light and surface. n, which makes the world visible to us thanks to our constant absorption of light energy. The colouring of our surroundings is physiologically and psychologically of great importance—the atmosphere shape en, movement and more only become visible through colour differences. Thus the colour pigments absorb some of the light in the room and create the atmosphere with the remaining one. The frequency and intensity of the colour contrasts direct our attention to what seems unconsciously important to us. Our emotional reactions are linked to spontaneous visual experiences (cf. Cuykendall and Hoffman 2008), whereby aggressive colour landscapes claim our perception more than harmonic ones. They are tiring in the long run because they are too rich in contrast, poor in contrast or too colourful and deviate from our experience of nature, which is characterized by soft colour effects. The colours of nature change constantly in the course of daylight and thus appear lively. Bringing a natural atmospheric effect into the room is the noblest task of the colour designer. Good colour concepts are skilfully designed colour landscapes that are adapted to the light, physiologically non-tiring and psychologically stimulating. Materially and conceptually, they refer to the colours and colour images of nature that have shaped us evolutionarily (cf. Lamb 2016; Cuykendall and Hoffman 2008). The material implementation of the colour concept takes place with natural colour nuances and even more with natural colours and materials. The use of artificially pigmented colours is an optical deception manoeuvre that imposes a visual dissonance on people in space and suppresses the feeling of being close to nature. Good colour concepts offer convincing answers to three questions. First, how is the atmosphere? The choice of the light main colour is of fundamental importance. Second, what’s important in this room? Views are led to light, contrasts of light and dark structure the architecture. Three, am I comfortable here? Dynamic colour accents set with empathy give people the feeling that they are not arbitrary and interchangeable. The checklist in Sect.  10.1 summarizes the most important practical considerations that lead to a good choice of colours. For practical instructions and further information on the design approach described here, reference can be made to specialist seminars which deepen the subject (cf. Trautwein 2017).


  1. Armstrong, D. M. (1969). Colour-realism and the argument from microscope. In R. Brown & C. D. Rollins (Eds.), Contemporary philosophy in Australia (pp. 119–131). London.Google Scholar
  2. Barragán, L. (1980). The Pritzker architecture prize 1980 laureate acceptance speech. Access March 28, 2014.
  3. Byrne, A., & Hilbert, D. R. (1997). Colors and reflectances. In A. Byrne, & D. R. Hilbert (Eds.), Readings on colors, vol. 1: The philosophy of color (pp. 263–288). Massachusetts: Cambridge.Google Scholar
  4. Campbell, K. (1969). Colours. In R. Brown & C. D. Rollins (Eds.), Contemporary philosophy in Australia (pp. 132–157). London.Google Scholar
  5. Chirimuuta, M. (2015). Outside color: Perpetual science and the puzzle of color in philosophy. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cuykendall, S. B., & Hoffman, D. D. (2008). From color to emotion. ideas and explorations. Irvine, CA: University of Irvine Press.Google Scholar
  7. Damböck, C. (2013). German empirism—Studies on philosophy in German-speaking countries 1830–1930. Springer.Google Scholar
  8. Descartes, R. (1637). Discours de la Method pour bien conduire sa raison, & chercher la verité dans les sciences. Leiden (German: Entwurf der Methode. With the dioptric, the meteors and the geometry. Edited by Chr. Wohlers. Hamburg 2015).Google Scholar
  9. Dorsch, F. (2009). The nature of colours. Frankfurt/M.Google Scholar
  10. Gegenfurtner, K. R., & Kiper, D. C. (2003). Color vision. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 26, 181–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gladwell, M. (2005). Blink. The power of thinking without thinking. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  12. Goethe, J. W. (1808). On the theory of colours. Didactic part. In: Goethe’s Works HA, vol. 13, Munich 1981, pp. 314–523.Google Scholar
  13. Goethe, J. W. (1823). The experiment as mediator of object and subject. In Goethe’s Works HA, vol. 13, Munich 1981, pp. 10–20.Google Scholar
  14. Gordon, G. (2015). Interior lighting for designers (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
  15. Hardin, C. L. (1986). Color for philosophers. Indianapolis: Unweaving the Rainbow.Google Scholar
  16. Hardin, C. L. (2014). Color qualities and the physical world. In: E. L. Wright (Ed.), The case for Qualia (pp. 143–154). Massachusetts: Cambridge.Google Scholar
  17. Harvey, J. (2000). Colour-dispositionalism and Its recent critics. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 61, 137–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Jackson, F., & Pargetter, R. (1997). An objectivist’s guide to subjectivism. In: A. Byrne & D. R. Hilbert (Eds.), Readings on colors, vol. 1: The philosophy of color (pp. 67–80). Massachusetts: Cambridge.Google Scholar
  19. Kötter, R. (1989). Newton and Goethe on the theory of colour. German journal for philosophy, 46, 585–600.Google Scholar
  20. Kreißl, F. R., & Krätz, O. (1999). Fire and flame, sound and smoke. Weinheim.Google Scholar
  21. Lamb, T. D. (2016) Why rods and cones? Eye, 30, 179–185.Google Scholar
  22. Lampert, T. (2000). On the science theory of color theory. Tasks, texts, solutions. Bern.Google Scholar
  23. Lampert, T. (2008). Newton vs. Goethe: Farben aus Sicht der Wissenschaftstheorie und Wissenschaftsgeschichte. In: H. Bieri & S. M. Zwahlen (Eds.), “Drink, o eyes, what the eyelash holds,”. Colour and colours in science and art (pp. 259–284). Bern.Google Scholar
  24. Maxwell, J. C. (1871, May 4). On colour. Nature, 13.Google Scholar
  25. Minnaert, M. (1992). Light and colour in nature. Basel.Google Scholar
  26. Newton, I. (1671/72). A new theory about light and colours. In: Phil. Trans. No. 80, pp. 3075–3087 (English: Newton’s theory of prismatic colours (Ed. J. A. Lohne, B. Sticker), Munich 1969).Google Scholar
  27. Newton, I. (1704). Opticks: Or, a treatise of the reflexions, refraction, inflexions and colours of light, London 1704, 21717, 31721, 41730 (English: Optics or Treatise on Reflections, Refractions, Diffraction and Colours of Light. (Ed. W. Abendroth), Leipzig 1898, Frankfurt/M 1996).Google Scholar
  28. Nüchterlein, P., & Richter, P. G. (2008). Space and colour. In P. G. Richter (Ed.), Architectural psychology (pp. 209–231). Lengerich: Pabst.Google Scholar
  29. Nussbaumer, I. (2008). The theory of colour. Discovery of the messy spectra. Vienna.Google Scholar
  30. Potter, M. C., Wyble, B., Hagmann, C. E., & McCourt, E. S. (2014). Detecting meaning in rapid pictures. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 76(2), 270–279.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Robinson, S., & Pallasmaa, J. (Eds.). (2015). Mind in architecture. neuroscience, embodiment, and the future of design. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  32. Rüegg, A. (2015). Polychromy architecturale. Le Corbusier’s color keyboards from 1931 and 1959. Basel: Birkhäuser.Google Scholar
  33. Schleichert, H. (1975). Logical empirism—The Viennese circle. Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink.Google Scholar
  34. Solomon, S. G., & Lennie, P. (2007). The machinery of colour vision. Nature Review Neuroscience, 8, 276–286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Stone, N. J., & English, A. J. (1998). Task Type, poster, and workspace color on mood, satisfaction, and performance. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 18(2), 175–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Thompson, E. (1995). Colour vision. A study in cognitive science and the philosophy of perception. London, New York.Google Scholar
  37. Trautwein, K. (2014): Black-Black. Zurich: Lars Müller Verlag, Uster: kt.COLOR AG.Google Scholar
  38. Trautwein, K. (2017). Colour concepts with light and shadow colours. Seminar contents and dates at Uster, Switzerland.
  39. Vetter, B., & Schmid, St. (Eds.). (2014). Dispositions. Frankfurt/M: Texts from the contemporary debate.Google Scholar
  40. Wittgenstein, L. (1984). Remarks about the color. In: Works edition (vol. 8, pp. 7–112). Frankfurt/M.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Technology Innovation ManagementFrankfurt/MainGermany
  2. 2.FAU, Erlangen-NurembergErlangenGermany
  3. 3.kt.COLOR AGUsterSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations