I have a memory from when I was young—five or six—and I asked my mom what her favorite color was. “Green,” she said. “Because I like trees and being outside.” It hadn’t occurred to my baby brain that there had to be any specific reason for something to be your favorite. I suppose it’s not so different when you’re an adult—you learn that there is almost always a why, even if you can’t quite make sense of it in the moment. Why do we gravitate to some bright rooms more than others? Why does that bright pillow make you feel some kind of way?
The “color-in-context theory,” conceived by psychologists Andrew Elliot and Markus Maier in 2012, muses that “the physical and psychological context in which color is perceived is thought to influence its meaning and, accordingly, responses to it.” How we understand color, they argue, is not so much about aesthetics but about the associations we hold—certain colors mean certain things to us, relying on our previous experiences and interpretations to inform how we feel about them in the future. I would argue that this is how design operates as a whole. Good design is all about context.
Bright colors and kooky silhouettes have always sparked design joy for me—and as far as Instagram is concerned, I’m not alone. Brands like Aelfie, Abigail Bell Vintage, Dusen Dusen Home, and Coming Soon are just a few purveyors of the uniquely chaotic feel-good design I’m talking about. Almost the opposite of the “Tyranny of Terrazzo” or millennial minimalism—this wave of furniture that’s somehow graphically retro and bizarrely futuristic, pattern-clashing that would make your grandmother gasp, color combos that force you to wince before you eventually think they’re edgy. It’s as if the inspiring, soul-soothing parts of the internet were a tangible