What is more important, colour or light?


We asked leading UK colour psychologist Karen Haller to write a guest blog sharing her thoughts on the relevant importance of light and colour.

So what is more important, colour or light, light or colour? That was the discussion (18 Degrees and Electrolight Director) Paul Beale and I found ourselves having over lunch at his east London studio.

As an Applied Colour Psychology specialist, I get this question a lot and 100% of the time people are surprised by my response.

I was telling Paul how a designer had called me to say she had been at a trade show listening to an expert panel discussing “what is more important – colour or light?” Each of the panellists agreed that light is. Quite animated she said how she wished I’d been there because I would have seen ‘red’ and staunchly defended colour saying it is more important. My reply that actually light is more important initially stunned and confused her until I explained why.

I wasn’t privy to the comments from that panel discussion but as I mentioned earlier what most people expect me to say because of my field is that colour is more important.

But the reality is you simply cannot see colour without there being light. You only have to turn the lights off at night and the colours on the objects you could see with the light on have now ‘disappeared’ in the darkness.

For us to have any chance of even experiencing colour we need three things;

– a light source

– a surface for the light source to bounce off, and

– the human eye.

But it doesn’t end there… this is where it gets really interesting…

Once we see can the colour (thanks to there being light) it’s at this point that colour becomes the more important of the two.

Because once we see colour, we have an immediate response to it. It’s not just a visual stimulus. Colour does influence how we feel, think and behave.

And this is the fascinating bit. When light strikes the human eye, the varying wavelengths (which we see as colour) are converted into electrical impulses which pass through the same part of the brain governing our hormones and our endocrine system (the hypothalamus) which governs amongst other things our:

– sleeping and behavioural patterns

– nervous system

– appetite

– body temperature

What this means is that colour isn’t something you just see. In psychological terms colour delivers an emotion experience. Whether you realise this or not you are always having a connection and responding to the colours in front of you.

When done well, light and colour create the perfect partnership. Together they can evoke positive thoughts, feelings and behaviours in any space influencing the experience of the customer in the restaurant or store, productivity in the workplace or wellbeing in the home.

If you’d like to connect with Karen you’ll find her over at Colour CollectiveInstagram and Twitter and at karenhaller.co.uk


What is more important, colour or light? - 18 Degrees - Architectural Lighting Design London