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Itten, colour theory and brand identity



Color is life; for a world without color appears to us as dead… Colors are the children of light, and light of their mother”. So said Johannes Itten, a top colour theorist and artist belonging to the famous Bauhaus movement. Together with Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Josef Albers he helped form much of what we understand today as colour theory.

Born in 1888, Itten taught foundation courses at the Bauhaus from 1919 until 1922 and was the first to make the link between colours and emotions as well as the impact of colours to our mood. He was also the one to designate colours into warm and cold, something that is still widely used today. So every time you think about a certain Farrow & Ball paint being "cold" for a north-facing room, think of Itten.

Although he did not come up with the idea of the colour wheel (we have Isaac Newton to thank for this, some 300 years earlier), he still worked a lot on modifying it. Deeply influenced by his contemporary Johann Goethe, he invested a lot of his time on the psychological attributes of colours.

Interestingly, he used to test which were his students' favourite colours which he called 'subjective' and tried to identify links between those and the students' vocation later on. Let's see an example.

It is said that Marcel Breuer, a student of Itten, showed preference to light violet, light blue, blue-gray, yellow, white and a touch of black as colours. Itten told him that he had a natural affinity to working with metals and glass. Breuer was not convinced at the time (he said he much preferred working with wood), but he was later on the one who designed the first modern steel chair (the Wassily chair).

Going back to the colour wheel, Itten divided it onto WARM and COOL colours. From the graph below it is obvious that warm colours are based on yellow whereas cool colours are blue based.