Comparing, Contrasting, and Discovering

When the sun sets, the sky fills with a beautiful array of colors; to many people, sunrises and sunsets are one of the most beautiful things in nature. They are so stunning because of the contrast between the fiery colors of the sky’s blanketed sun and the cool darkness of night.

Contrasting sunset
Sun setting over a waterscape

Of course, contrast is all around us throughout each day and night; it’s in our surroundings and in our thoughts.

What is visual contrast?

In art and design, contrast refers to the placement of opposite elements to create depth, variety, and drama. It can also maintain a sense of balance within a composition in the following ways.

  • Line contrast refers to the difference in thickness, weight, and direction of lines.
  • Edge contrast is the difference in brightness between an object’s edges and the surrounding area.
  • Texture contrast is the difference in textures between two adjacent surfaces. When two surfaces have different textures, our eyes are drawn to the point of transition between the two textures.
  • When we see an object, our brain uses various cues to perceive its shape. One of these cues is called shape contrast, the difference in shape between an object and its background. For example, if we see a square-shaped object against a background of circles, the square will appear to be a different shape than if it were against a background of triangles.
  • Size contrast is the difference in size between two people or objects, which might appear larger or smaller than usual when presented alongside each other.
  • Space contrast is the use of different values, or tones, of color to suggest space and distance through atmospheric perspective on two-dimensional surfaces. It most effectively involves lighter colors for foreground elements and darker colors for the background elements. Space contrast can cause a number of effects, from making an object appear closer or further away to indicating spaciousness or confinement.
  • The difference between the lightness and darkness (value) of colors is called value contrast or tonal contrast.
  • Color contrast is the difference between hues and their temperatures. When two colors have low contrast, they appear similar and are closer to each other on the color wheel.

What is simultaneous color contrast?

There is also a phenomenon called simultaneous contrast, which occurs when two colors placed next to each other appear to change color. Specifically:

  • A dark hue can make a light one look brighter in comparison; the light color will make the dark one seem darker, too.
  • Warm colors look even warmer when placed next to cooler hues, and cold colors look cooler when placed next to warmer ones.
  • A saturated (intense) color next to a subdued one makes the latter look more faded, and vice versa.
  • If two colors have a similar level of brightness, temperature, or saturation, they will both appear less bright, warm/cold, or saturated when placed next to each other.

Simultaneous contrast is caused by the brain trying to make sense of the different colors it sees. When two colors are next to each other, the brain creates an illusion of a third color that is different from both original colors.

What is successive color contrast?

Successive contrast is the perception of color when it is viewed in succession with (right before) another color. For example, if you stare at a red object for a few seconds and then look at a white sheet of paper, you will see its afterimage — an image that persists afterward — of a greenish tint. This is because, over time, the eye’s receptors for the color you were looking at become desensitized to it. At the same time, receptors for other colors on the opposite side of the color wheel become more sensitive.

What is color vibration?

Color vibration is another optical illusion. When saturated colors with sufficient color contrast and a similar brightness level are next to each other, they appear to glow and vibrate. They also tend to leave strong afterimages.

This effect is most common in artwork that features geometric patterns or stripes and can infuse any work of art or design with a sense of energy.

Simultaneous contrast, successive contrast, and color vibration
These swatches’ saturated blue and red-orange colors compete for attention, leading to color vibration. They also cause simultaneous temperature contrast and are likely to result in afterimages.

While any visual contrast can draw the eye to important information and form advantageous illusions, it can be overwhelming and even misleading when used carelessly. When used sparingly, however, visual contrast can be a powerful and sensational tool for motivation and growth.

Why does the broader concept of contrast matter to everyone?

Comparison and contrast are foundational to the learning process.

From a young age, we’re hardwired to compare all kinds of ideas in our minds. When we see that two people, objects, places, or situations are different, we try to understand their disparities and connections.

Keeping this concept in mind if you are a business owner can elevate how you market your services. Every time you put your brand in front of potential customers, you’re facilitating an exciting series of discoveries that can set you apart from the competition. Make sure these discoveries are grounded in reality, but make them fascinating!

Contrast helps us recognize better possibilities.

Comparing and contrasting helps us recognize where we are as opposed to where we want to be physically, mentally, and emotionally.

There’s something innately human about the fear of stagnation. The possibility of being left behind provides the incentive to do better. In today’s fast-paced world, it’s more important than ever to keep up with the latest trends and technologies, and those who don’t may find themselves at a disadvantage.

We see the desire for improvement in everything from our personal lives to our workplaces, whether that means making strides in personal relationships or exceeding career goals. Continuous improvement is one of the most important aspects of any successful endeavor; seeing our progress can be very rewarding.

So, think about what your customers are missing — and what your brand is missing — before considering the promises you can make to improve their lives.

It makes positive change possible.

Trying something that contrasts with the norm can be challenging. Introducing an unexpected brand with vivid, distinctive messaging and visuals may unsettle some customers and turn them away.

However, it may also fill a gap in the marketplace, resulting in a happy and devoted niche of customers who appreciate the changes you can make for them. Hopefully, long after interacting with your company, they’ll keep a positive image of you in their minds for not seconds — not minutes — but many years ahead.

Are you wondering how to improve the perception of your business’ unique strengths? Connect with someone who understands that contrast transcends the design of your branding materials. I’m here to support your marketing decisions, from planning to evaluating performance through many sunrises and sunsets.

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