Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Design Studies Essay (part 1 and 2)

In last semester's assignment 4, I wrote a comparative essay on two of Faber Birren's texts, “Color Psychology and Color Therapy: A Factual Study of the Influence of Color on Human Life” and “Color and Human Response”. I used secondary research to look into detail the effects colours can have on the treatment of mental disorders, such as schizophrenia and depression. I looked at a number of experiments carried out by scientists and physicians, including the work of physician Felix Deutsch. However, in this assignment it is my intention to explore colour psychology and therapy using potential primary research. I will explain in depth, a number of ways I would carry out experiments that would help deepen my knowledge of the benefits of therapeutic colour therapy. Because I am not a neuroscience student or studying any biological sciences, my research will be purely theoretical, using the methods we have been taught this semester. I then intend to use everything I learn to help me look at one of my Jewellery and Metalwork design briefs in a different light. I recently proof read a 10,000 word dissertation for my sister on Vanishing White Matter Disease (VWM). Although not directly linked to my topic, it was very beneficial for me to aknowledge the way my sister wrote her dissertation, using a combination of both primary and secondary research. I feel it will aid me in this assignment by providing me with the tools needed to complete it.

Using the knowledge I have gained in my first essay, and considering the secondary research I gathered through Birren's texts, I have now come up with three experiements, which if put into practise, I believe the results would be beneficial in widening our understanding of the advantageous effects of colour therapy in therapeutic treatment of mental disorders. Colour therapy and other hypnotherapeutical practises are often considered non beneficial by some, but I think the next three hypothetical experiments will help prove that colour therapy can infact aid the treatment of mental disorders.

The first experiment I would carry out would be a functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. A structural MRI takes photographs of cross sections of the brain to detect masses such as tumours whereas a functional MRI measures the changes in blood flow in relation to neural activity. Functional MRIs allow for doctors to observe the changes in a patient's brain when exposed to different images and sounds. I would present a patient suffering from a mental disorder with a series of different coloured lights and hues, measuring the changes in their brain activity to each. If each colour caused the neural activity to react in different ways then this would begin to show that colours do infact have some effect on the brain. If I could identify which colours effect which parts of the brain, and compare these to the sections of the brain that are damaged from certain mental disorders, I could use these specific colours to see what change they make to the patient. If, for example, red and yellow light up the same area of the brain affected by schizophrenia, perhaps different hues of these colours could result in some form of beneficial treatment. I would also carry out the same experiment on someone with a healthy brain, to make sure that the colours used where specific to each mental disorder.

The second experiment would involve another functional MRI scan, but this time instead of presenting the different colours to the patient, I would instead ask them purely to think of the colour I chose. This would help me to see if even the thought of a colour can have any kind of effect on the brain. If this was the case, then eventually a structured form of meditation could be developed to help therapeutically treat the patient in question.

My third and final experiment would involve investigating the difference between medication and colour therapy. To show this I would start a group of patients suffering from depression on medication such as the anti-depressant citalopram, and start another group of patients also suffering from depression on colour therapy. By this stage if experients one and two had proven successful, I would know which colours to expose the patients to. By recording the effects of both treatments, it would be possible to see which has a more beneficial effect on the treatment of depression if any at all. This ties in with the idea of the “placebo” effect, which has shown to have advantageous effects on patients, if they are unaware that they are on the placebo rather than the treatment. When the brain releases endorphins, it has been shown that suffering patients do infact begin recovering. (Lourdes, France). Perhaps if endorphins are released as a result of exposure to different colours, patients could be treated in this way, rather than having to take medication.

In Birren's text Color Psychology and Color Therapy, he generalises a theory about colours in relation to personality. He states that people preferring warm colours “warm colour dominant subjects”, are more in touch with their social environment. They are more likely to be characterized by warm feelings, and in the “subject-object relationship, the emphasis is on the object.” (Pg 138). He then argues that people preferring cold colours, such as blue and green, calling these people “cold colour dominant subjects”, find it difficult to adapt to new environments and situations, and are “inwardly integrated.” He states that cold colour dominant subjects are less able to express themselves compared with warm colour dominants. Emotionally the cold colour dominant subject is rather reserved and in the “subject-object relationship, the emphasis is on the subject.” (Pg 138). A less scientific experiment I would carry out would involve interviewing the public to see what colours they choose to surround themselves with and why, what their favourite colours are and how this reflects their personalities. With the knowledge I gained in semester one about colour psychology, asking people their favourite colours can theoretically tell us a lot about what kind of person they are.

For the second part of this assignment, it is my intention to use the tools I have gained this semester and apply them to one of my previous jewellery design briefs, to hopefully work out a way to improve my designs and give me some fresh ideas. The brief I have chosen to look at in more detail is the Catwalk project, where I based my designs around the colours and patterns of Indian culture. I researched the different traditions of India including the art of henna in weddings and birthdays. It was my aim to produce a number of bracelets and arm cuffs to “adorn the body in an individual and unusual way”. I asked a girl from my class to model my pieces, and I was really pleased with the outcome of the photographs, and the exhibition we had for the project was a success. The henna particularly interested me, so after looking at a number of different couture designers, I began designing my own henna patterns and scanned them onto the computer. By printing the designs onto a special type of acetate called Print 'n' Peel, I was able to transfer them onto sheets of copper and brass and place in the etching bath. With my etched metal, I formed 3 arm cuffs, one lined with fabric, another textured with a hammer, and the third with a flocked surface. The rest of my designs involved binding wire around strips of different colours and lengths of fabrics to produce 30 chunky bracelets to be worn all the way up the arms. My final designs appealed to me personally, but I believe to have improved my designs, it would have been useful to do some primary research, similar to what I've gained this semester, to discover what it is that the majority of the public would like. By doing this, eventually my designs would hopefully appeal to a wider audience, thus making me a more successful designer.

If I could rewind and begin this project again, I think it would have been very beneficial for my designing to carry out a number of interviews with a variety of people, focusing on females. I would base my interviews on what people thought of when I asked them to describe India. I would ask them what colours they associate with the country, what patterns, textiles, smells, shapes etc. The interviews I would carry out would be structured without being too rigid, giving the respondent a chance to present more of their own thoughts rather than being pushed into giving generic answers. The age group I would interview would be females between the ages of 13 and 30.

Another method, arguably more effective than the previous, would be to chose some images related to india, or jewellery and ask a group of people to either describe or write a short story about the images. From doing this experiment earlier in the semester, it showed me that when people wrote the short stories about 4 images I had chosen at random, the words they used, and the creativity of their stories showed me a great deal about their personalities. Applying this along with what I have learned about colour psychology, I believe that I would be able to create a range of designs suited specifically for that person after carrying out these two experiments.

Going around the shops and observing what women buy who fit into this category would also have been helpful in aiding my research. High street shops such as Topshop, Accessorize, and Monsoon sell jewellery to a large audience, and the styles of their products all have a certain similarity. By seeing what is popular and sought after, I could base my designs around a certain style that I know would sell. However I would want the outcome to be original, showing my own personality through my pieces, and for them to be more individual than the latest high street fashion.

Even though not applicable to this project, another method of primary research that could be useful would be to make a mock piece and ask a few members of the public to wear it for a day to see how comfortable it is to wear and how durable it would be. This doesn't really apply to this project as the cuffs were really made to be worn as a one off. The fabric bracelets may have benefited from this though, as they could be worn as everyday accessories.

Because I used a lot of fabric for my bracelets, I think it would be advantageous for me to ask a range of people which they prefered. I had a number of different fabrics with varied textures, colours and finishes. The people that I did ask, almost all prefered the blue and green chunkier bracelets. This surprised me as I had planned to stick to warmer colours such as reds, oranges and yellows, but added some extra colours at the last minute. Looking back I wish I'd asked for other people's opinions sooner, as it would have helped me gain a new direction in my designing. It would have also been interesting to ask people to help me design my own fabric, making each fabric design individual to the customer, and therefore more appealing.

Through both of these short essays I hope to have drawn some conclusions to both my interest in Colour Psychology and my evaluation of the Catwalk Project. From the tools and skills I have gained this semester in both Design studies and in the jewellery and metalwork design course, including the ability to carry out primary research, I feel I can now apply them to future projects. For my next project, Sustainability, I think it will be very useful to incorporate these tools into my research, providing me with a more substancial volume of knowledge to base my designs on.


Birren, F. (1984) Color & Human Response: Aspects of Light and Color Bearing on the Reactions of Living Things and the Welfare of Human Beings. Wiley.

Birren, F. (1979) Color Psychology and Color Therapy: a factual study of the influence of color on Human life. Kessinger Publishing Co.

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