Countless Colors demonstrates that by mixing the primary colors in different amounts, one can form an infinite number of new colors. Three knobs control the intensity of red, blue, and green light, enabling the user to form any desired color, including white.
NSF had awarded the Exploratorium a grant to complete an exhibition on color, light, optics and human vision that came to be named Seeing. Richard Brown and I had come across a small RGB flashlight that fascinated us as it would shine an infinite blend of colors into its white packaging. With three weeks and $500 we set about creating Countless Colors: named by Richard for the three colors that can provide an infinite set of hues for humans -who have only three cones to see them with.
a simple idea
Early user testing revealed that a simple color mixing experience provided an engaging experience, and that added functionalities weren’t needed.
round buttons for smooth handling
I chose three round, turnwheel buttons with colored dots to indicate to users which of the colored lights the user was manipulating. The buttons are large and easily turned, even for users with mobility impairments. I soon found users turning them effortlessly while looking at the changing colors, not the buttons.
I designed the exhibit as a small house on a cafe’-style table. Lit from above, the piece had no trouble attracting users. Testing revealed that most users left it in an interesting color state, like white or yellow.
three lights, three cones
Countless Colors received its name when Richard Brown pointed out that the colors seen by humans is due to the three kinds of cones found in humans’ eyes. The idea of the number three providing the model for the entire interaction: as an interface (three buttons) and as scientific content (three cones) was a really attractive system that I’d like to use again.