National Color Test

[Image: Lüscher yellow].

By sheer coincidence, I was looking back through the archives of a blog called Unurthed the other day—a great, although seemingly now-defunct site written by Greg Pass—where I read about the so-called “Lüscher color test.”

The test, according to that font of accurate historical insight, Wikipedia, was “a psychological test invented by Dr. Max Lüscher in Basel, Switzerland… Lüscher believed that because the color selections are guided in an unconscious manner, they reveal the person as they really are, not as they perceive themselves or would like to be perceived. He believed that personality traits could be identified based on one’s choice of color. Therefore, subjects who select identical color combinations have similar personalities.”

[Image: Lüscher red].

Think of it as a more interesting, albeit still pseudoscientific version of the asinine Myers-Briggs Test, the latter of which is a scientifically useless form of personality evaluation that, in this age of anti-vaxxers, chemtrail conspiracists, and the politically motivated rejection of climate change science, has undergone a disquieting resurgence.

[Image: Lüscher green].

Lüscher’s test was altogether more colorful, leading to a peacock’s tail of brilliantly printed playing cards from which a person would choose their preferred hues.

I say I was reading that post on Unurthed “by sheer coincidence,” because I was interested to see that Core77—which underwent a substantial redesign earlier this year and is worth checking out, if you haven’t do so already—just posted about federal color regulations in the United States, inspired by a short article in the Washington Post.

U.S. color regulations, we read, give specific instructions for everything from how to paint U.S.P.S. post boxes and what Forest Service signs are meant to look like, to the specific color of Navy torpedoes and even a hue known as “Radome tan.”

[Image: Federal Color #13415, School Bus Yellow].

Seeing those two posts one right after the other, however, despite their separation by years online, was almost jarring, like something straight out of a Thomas Pynchon novel: the U.S. federal color standards seen as a sort of unacknowledged color-personality evaluation involuntarily imposed on the populace, a Lüscher test for the entire nation.

[Image: Federal Color #15095, Post Office Light Blue].

Think of the central spatial premise of Rupert Thomson’s under-rated 2005 novel Divided Kingdom, previously discussed on BLDGBLOG a long while back.

Thomson describes a UK split up into four sub-nations based on personality, where each personality type has been given a color—Yellow, Green, Blue, or Red—that reflects their emotional disposition.

I mention this here not to argue about the political viability of such a scenario, but to point out that the inadvertent juxtaposition of the Lüscher color test with the closely regulated system of colors “used in government procurement” suggests a peculiar variation on that novel’s core idea, as if the infrastructure around us is really a homeopathic, color-based personality test in disguise.

Where you like to drive, and the kinds of spaces and institutions you’re attracted to or repelled by, would all be part of an undeclared, immersive evaluation procedure coextensive with the federal landscape.

[Image: Federal Color #14066, DoT Highway Green].

While Thomson’s novel—at least as far as I recall—does not propose the actual color-coding of urban infrastructure to reflect inhabitants’ emotional state, it is not a huge leap to assume that the application of certain colors on a large enough scale could begin to exert Lüscher-like personality effects.

Surely there’s a YA dystopian novel in that somewhere… Which color are you?

4 thoughts on “National Color Test”

  1. There is a recent YA series that riffs on the same idea of personality groups, in this case based on core values. Each group has its own colour. Dauntless (bravery) = black; Erudite (intelligence) = blue; Amity (peaceful) = yellow and red; Candor (truth) = white or black. (Called the Divergent trilogy, by Veronica Roth.)

  2. There actually is a YA book that hits on these themes with the entire society based on what colors a person is able to see, with those able to see purples and ultraviolets at the top of the pecking order down to the lowly greys. It's a biting dystopian commentary with a sense of humor. Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

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