Universal truths in design?
I have often wondered if there is deeper meaning in colors, shapes and so on or if the meaning is completely given by our society. While the visual language changes from place to place implying there is no universal underlying meaning to anything there do seem to be some interesting things going on. Sound and color are deeply entangled, people always intuited this thanks to synaesthetes but now there are studies shedding light into how the rest of the world experiences sound and color.
One interesting study from Radboud University in Edenborough shows that most people associate colors with vowels! That is pretty huge, it implies that everyone has certain intuitions about the way sounds correlate with colors, not just synaesthetes.
Apparently Aa is a bit redder than green.
In the study mentioned, over a thousand people took a test where they chose colors for 16 spoken vowels. The vast majority felt that Aa was more red than green and that ee had a lighter rather than darker quality regardless of being synesthetic. One of the researchers was quoted saying “There seems to be a logic to how we link sound and color, and the structure of language has an important role in this process.”
Studies have also found that color is also linked to the pitch of the sound, the lower the pitch, the darker the color and viceversa. In theory you could translate from sound to image, you could make a picture worth quite literally a thousand words (spoken words that is, written have no sound)
Dingemanse says, “If color associations were purely dependent on acoustical factors, the color would neatly run into one another like in a rainbow. Instead, we see that sounds are grouped according to the way that our language carves up the vowel space: a few blue spots and then suddenly a red one, with no transition of blue-purple-red. You could say that the vowels have to pass through the sorting machine that is our language before we can link color to them, even in synaesthetes, for whom associations like these are involuntary.”
Synaesthetes seem to be more systematic with their associations, that being said some patterns seem to occur everywhere, for example colors chosen for ee and ay tend to be very close to one another while aa and oo tend to be further apart.
When it comes to visual language, it would be nice if colors had a correlation with meaning rather than sound but it is something. After all it is speculated that all languages come from a common origin which could give colors a universal meaning once upon a time. I know, it’s a bit much but I still think this is cool enough to share 😊