The Interaction of Color iPad app adapts Josef Albers famous 1963 book. Image: Potion Design
When Josef Albers published Interaction of Color in 1963, it was nothing less than the gateway to an entire way of thinking. First, there was its size: The original edition was massive (about as big as a turntable and as heavy as a 20-pound dumbbell) and it wasn’t really a book. Interaction of Color was more a hands-on kit, with its collection of more than 150 printed silkscreen color studies, a corresponding book of commentary and second book delving into Albers’ famous color philosophy, that were all meant to be sprawled out on a table and interacted with as a way for students to learn about the relationships between colors.
For anyone without a color theory background, it will blow your mind.
Fifty years later the book’s guts still hold up—the theories Albers developed during his time at the Bauhaus continue to be taught at art schools around the world. But the physical version of the book, which has been circulated primarily in paperback for the last four decades, needed an update. Yale University Press has just done that, by releasing a new iPad version of Albers’ famous texts and color studies. Designed by New York City-based Potion Design, the Interaction of Color app is about as close as most of us will get to the original version of Albers’ masterpiece, which today primarily lives in special collections and museums.
The app is nearly an exact digital replica of the 1963 version of the book, down to the original Baskerville typeface and layout of the text columns—but with some 21st century upgrades. “We were really thinking, how can we go back to the original intent of Albers’ book, and make something that he would’ve made today,” says Phillip Tiongson, one of the founders of Potion.
The app features more than 125 color plates, 60 interactive studies and two hours of video interviews with designers, artists and architects as well as commentary from Albers himself. The coolest, or at least the most enlightening, of the app’s features are the interactive studies, which simulate the cut paper exercises Albers’ students used to learn theories like how two seemingly different colors are actually exactly the same. “For me it was really important that you felt there was a tactile quality,” Tiongson says.
It’s as if you had seen the original studies the students had made with cut paper.
Users can drag, lift and manipulate the plates’ flaps and pieces to reveal the relationships between colors that are usually invisible to the untrained eye.
“Something very interesting happens between the factual, what we know is there, and how we actually see it,” says Michelle Komie, a senior editor at Yale University Press who has worked on previous print editions of Interaction of Color and oversaw the book-to-app process. For anyone without a color theory background, it will blow your mind to drag a little salmon-colored square next to a darker pink square only to realize it’s the exact same color. “It feels like a trick, right?” says Tiongson of the plates’ ability to alter your perception. “It feels like, are they changing a color on me?”
That was a revelation to us, that this is how powerful these principles are.
The Interaction of Color app comes with a palette of more than 250 swatches for users to create their own studies. The idea is that after creating a custom plate, you can export the study and color pairings (with RGB values) and use them in your own design software like Illustrator or Photoshop. Tiongson aimed to make the colors available on the app as close to the cut paper colors used in the 1963 edition, but it was inevitable that there would be some variation in the tint and richness of colors as it switched from print to digital.
“Color is this moving target,” he says, explaining that the colors you see as pixels on your screen are very different than the colors you see in a book of construction paper. Still, he continues, “All of the principals work, even if you have to use slightly different colors. That was a revelation to us, that this is how powerful these principles are—that they work across all media.”
Purchase the Interaction of Color app for $9.99 at the Apple app store.