Imagine that You are Seeing Things for the First Time

There is no doubt that color is an integral part of beauty; we all have deep-seated color preferences that influence our affinity for objects and our emotions as well. For a new opinion section in 4SEE, we reached out to Friederike Tebbe, an expert in color theory and a color consultant for noted architecture projects, to ask her about her philosophy when it comes to perceiving color in the world around us.

Photography & Text Friederike Tebbe

“It is not what we observe that is critical. It is what we see.”


Our world is a colorful world. Colors create order, presentation and orientation. Almost all of us have a favorite color, and another color that we cannot stand. And yet we don’t really take color seriously and thus color is often the last aspect to be considered in design processes. We express lively and definite preferences, preconceptions and reservations. And yet we generally don’t know where they come from, or the reason; it is more a case of “gut feeling”.


Like smell and taste, color strongly influences our emotions. And yet, as a medium that constantly changes, it is difficult to grasp. Close examination is the most important precondition for confident understanding of color. But how does this process—of seeing, recognizing, understanding, and judging—function? Amid the sea of colors that surround us every day, which are seemingly so random and diverse, jumbled-together and confusing, alluring and incomprehensible, how can we create an overview? How can we refine our awareness of color, and cultivate our ability to discriminate?



Just as you can look at an object differently, it is also possible to observe the act of seeing. Self-observation quickly reveals how limited everyday seeing is. Do you see wide or long? Do you see ahead or behind? Do you see better standing up or sitting down? How well can you hear while you see?


By making a close examination and relying upon our observations, we can gain a great deal of experience of color and its context. Observe what you see, and also how you see and what you believe you are seeing. Create a kind of “album” of impressions and insights. Take photographs, take cuttings, use a brush—or, if you don’t have the time, just look around you attentively. Try to look at things without attaching meaning and value: this is, in itself, more difficult than one might initially think, and requires a certain distance. But once you do it, it changes the way you look at things. So, you must simply change your perspective. Look at your environment from above, or with the eyes of an extraterrestrial. Imagine that you are seeing things for the first time.


Friederike Tebbe is a color theorist and designer who works as a consultant for architecture and design projects. She has taught courses on color and design for the University of Arts (UdK) in Berlin and regularly gives workshops and lectures on the topic. She is the author of multiples books of photography and writing on the subject of color and perception in the world around us. Her most recent book, Hear Green, Think Yellow: Understanding Color was published in 2017 by Jovis Verlag.

Friederike Tebbe, Designer, Photographer, and Director of Studio Farbarchiv in Berlin

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