Re: colors and backgrounds for web pages

  • From: "Will Pearson" <will@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <programmingblind@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2007 01:32:37 -0000


"The last comment is that there is the symbolic aspect of color. Things like red = stop, green = go are paradigms that you should be aware of and try not to contradict. Don't have green stop buttons and red go buttons."

This is a very interesting point, especially as I've been studying semantics, meaning, and that sort of area for four years or so now. The meaning that someone extracts from something is based on associations they have made between the features of the physical stimuli and other concepts. These bindings between stimuli and concepts are pretty individual and are formed from a person's experiences and learning. So, different people can extract different meanings from the same stimuli. This also occurs in natural language where the meaning that is intended is often referred to as the semantics and the meaning that is received is often referred to as the pragmatics. We all have different knowledge of the language we use, known as our idiolect, and different groups have different diolects.

As members of the same group are often exposed to the same learning and experiences then they often end up with the same bindings between stimuli and concepts, which is why natural language manages to work; however, as learning and experience can differ in subtle ways between members of a group then the bindings should be considered as cultural conventions and not as hard and fast rules that cannot be changed. As As these cultural conventions tend to be transmitted within groups then they cannot be applied outside of groups.

People can also ashave multiple bindings for the same stimuli. In other words, they can associate multiple sets of concepts with the same stimuli. For example, I saw in an earlier message that the colours red and orange were associated with warmth. This association is likely because they are the colours of a fire and we associate warmth with a fire but what if ysomeone had been caught in a fire and been significantly burned by it. My guess is that the person may then also associate danger and pain with the colours red and orange. People seem to use context to disambiguate between the multiple meanings and priming would seem to play a part in this.

So, associations between colours or any other physical stimuli and meaning, emotion, etc. are not going to be the same for everyone. To get it right you really have to know the group of users you are designing for and stick to designing something for them and not for everyone; it's pretty impossible to create something that works for everyone without forcing people to do some learning about your encoding scheme.

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