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

The Dream of Californian Design

From political posters to portable devices, discover how the egalitarian spirit of design in California has changed the way we live, learn, work and communicate 

An ongoing exhibition at London’s Design Museum explores how Californian design has given us the tools for unprecedented personal freedom by transforming the way we see, speak, make, travel and share. California: Designing Freedom traces the roots of modern technology and the legacy of Silicon Valley – including its cultish corporatism –  back to counterculture movements and the hippie modernisms of the 1960s.

In this sweeping celebration of California as a nucleus of pioneering design and technology, curators Justin McQuirk and Brendan McGetrick make connections between the free speech movement and social media, LSD and virtual reality, self-reliant communes and online communities, as well as many other equivalents, in order to argue that design drives the egalitarian spirit of California’s techno-utopia. 

The exhibition is ultimately about understanding the age of the individual. The freedom to say, to see, make, go where, and join what you want are its five organising themes. Taking the 1960s as its starting point, some 300 items, from political posters to portable devices, come together in the first show to position the Golden State as a self-made design capital of the 21st century, highlighting how Californian products now shape our daily lives.

It is an ambitious and at times overwhelming survey, with early Apple prototypes sharing the space with a replica of the Captain America chopper from the 1969 film Easy Rider. Highlights include artist and activist Gilbert Baker’s original 1978 design for the Rainbow Flag, Ridley Scott’s first commercial for Apple in 1984, and back issues of The Whole Earth Catalog (a pre-internet publication providing access to tools, information and ideas). There is even a vitrine of LSD blotting paper. “It’s the only drug where you’re consuming a piece of graphic design,” co-curator Justin McQuirk joked. 

A question left unanswered by California: Designing Freedom is whether the spirit within which something is made is more important than its application. When drawing parallels between California’s history of counterculture and the shared values of Silicon Valley, the downsides of technology, the internet and individualism at large are not addressed head-on. New phenomenons like self-surveillance are mentioned, but their potential for abuse is never fully implicated. In other words, the cost at which some of our newfound freedom comes is left unaccounted for. But perhaps that’s a story for another exhibition.

California: Designing Freedom is on show at the Design Museum in London until 17 October