I find color endlessly fascinating. It is all around us, one of the most basic components of life, right up there with sounds, shapes, textures, and smells. When we think of color, we may first think of art, interior design, and fashion, but the study of color also has a large and diverse science component: the science of paints, inks, and pigments; the physics of light and optics; and the biology of rods, cones, and the brain. Newton tried to connect the colors of the spectrum with the tones of the musical scale.
Philosophers and thinkers have been enamored with color, too. There is a whole field called color theory, including leaders like Johannes Itten and Joseph Albers. Even the great German polymath Goethe wrote a book on the theory of color. Linguists study the terms we use for color, and how they differ by language and culture. Forty years ago, a bestselling book described the “Luscher color test,” which proposed to analyze your personality based on the colors you preferred.
I once wondered, how do we really know that you and I see the same things in our mind’s eye when we say we see orange? It could be that we use the terms consistently in our own heads, but that you really see (my idea of) green when I see orange. You just call it orange because that’s what your teachers or parents told you it was. And, if you landed on a strange planet, and discovered a new color, would you even recognize it? Would it make you crazy? They say dogs are colorblind because they don’t have the same rods and cones we have – but mightn’t Creation have given them a different system, just like It gave bats a different way of hearing?
There are a lot of books about color, covering everything from highly technical color science to applications from web design to art, from mixing colors to knitting colors. Classics by Itten and Albers continue in print. Understandably, virtually all of these books are a joy to look through. Most of them are full of useful information. Some of them cover a wide variety of topics related to color.
I have not found any books which do all three of these things – look good, contain information, and cover multiple aspects of color – as well as Designer’s Color Manual: The Complete Guide to Color Theory and Application by Tom Fraser and Adam Banks (Chronicle Books, 2004).
In 222 pages, this oversized paperback starts with color theory and ends with the inner workings of digital cameras and modern computer printers. At each step of the way, each concept is clearly illustrated. It’s one of those books you can almost completely absorb just by studying the illustrations and their captions. Whether you want to design books or packages, websites or clothes, or just want to understand the colors around you and how it all works, this is the book for you. If you just want to take an evening off and lose yourself in great images, this is the book for you. The Designer’s Color Manual is a “best in class book,” not at all surprising from the outstanding publisher Chronicle Books.