Hella Jongerius’ Lessons in Colour

The Berlin-based Dutch designer draws on her studio’s 15 years of research in a solo show that unpacks our relationship with colour and how it has changed 

In her solo exhibition at the Design Museum in London, Berlin-based Dutch designer Hella Jongerius calls widespread preconceptions of colour into question. Chief among these is the idea that, as per paint charts and standardised colour systems, our experience of individual colours is static and unchanging. As Breathing Colour invites us to take a closer look at the way colour behaves, the designer makes a case against the processes of industrialisation that limit how we perceive colour. 

A phenomenon called metamerism lies at the heart of Jongerius’ research. In colorimetry, metamerism refers to the way two colours can look the same under one light source and different under another. To this effect, the exhibition is divided into separate spaces that simulate natural light at specific times of the day – morning, noon and night – and their effect on colour. Each installation includes a series of three-dimensional objects as well as textiles in order to show that materials and shapes also play a role in our perception.

Below are five takeaways from Jongerius’ in-depth interview with the Design Museum.

Colour is subjective

“Colour is very subjective. It is different for every person, every surface, shape and under changing lighting conditions. This makes colour mysterious and ever-changing.”

Industrial colour systems don’t reflect the full spectrum

“I miss the changeability, the options, that will allow us to read and re-read an industrially produced colour, like we do with works of art. Perfectly arranged, immaculate industrial colour systems don’t offer us the full potential of colour.”

Colour changes throughout the day

“Morning tones are pastel coloured, soft but fresh, with less yellow and no black. Then comes the sharp light right from above at noon, bringing very brisk contrasts and structure. Colours look greener and more reddish.”

Reflections colour everything

“If you take notice, you see just how much is coloured by reflections: whole walls and spaces are toned by it. A grey day is therefore even greyer because there is not enough intense light to cause these reflections.”

Materials impact colour

“The surface and colour of an object defines how we interact with it, how we use it at first and over time. A sense of touch and feeling things strongly influence the relationship between object and user.”

Breathing Colour by Hella Jongerius is on show at the Design Museum in London until 24 September