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THE NEW RAL DESIGN SYSTEM plus

RAL Colour DNA

Limitless understanding with the RAL DESIGN SYSTEM plus RAL Colour DNA

A random approach versus precise definition.
The fly in the ointment of every attempt at making a definitive colour statement is its multitudinous capacity for change. More than enough reason, therefore, to develop a standard upon which reliable, unambiguous and durable colour communication can be based. The formulation of such standards also provides a reliable basis for the work of colour archaeologists, architects, restaurateurs, painters, designers and artists.

Besides fixed colour definitions, the basic prerequisites for standards of this kind are controllable product recipes and stable raw materials as have become available in increasingly high quality over the past century. Today, reliable and unequivocal colour communication has been standardised in the RAL CLASSIC and RAL EFFECT colour collections and in the new RAL DESIGN SYSTEM plus.

Meta-language colour – global, intuitive, receptive.
Language is a fundamental means of communication. Even in the earliest days of infancy, young parents soon discover the ability of their offspring to communicate their needs. Their loud voices have the same startling quality as the howl of a jet taking off or a fire engine siren. Of course, those same parents quickly realise that immediately after feeding or attending to their child’s hygiene needs, they will be rewarded by a relaxing of their facial expression, the gaze of shining eyes and the sound of satisfied gurgling. The principles of communication are always shaped around the sending and receiving of signals.

Perception and behavior - steered by impressions.
We humans have around 1.4 billion touch receptors distributed across our entire bodies to form a highly sensitive instrument for perceiving the world around us. Of these, around 240 million optical cones and rods are responsible for visual perception. Cones enable us to see in colour while rods perceive the world in black and white.

Without feeding back directly to the central cortex, receptors trigger primitive reactions that even today still prime us for flight or fight. Emotional responses are faster and clearer than behavioural patterns dictated by logic. The first response comes from the power of our impressions followed by our feelings. It is only then that experience exerts its influence on the chain of command and, finally, logic makes the final decision. Nevertheless, as C.J. Jung first noted and “modern” psychologists agree: “Feeling is older than thought”. When in doubt, we go with our gut instinct. It is more than capable of turning our logic upside down. An evolutionary hangover that shows that we are amply equipped with emotions and feelings, enough certainly to survive.

The RAL Colour language: better than esperanto.
Colours, today, increasingly reflect a globalised society. In the same way that we are moving towards a universal language profile, the global imagery of colour finds itself on a similarly convergent path. The advent of the internet and new, global means of communication have meant that recent years have seen a marked reduction in cultural idiosyncrasies. Consequently, the formulas for individual colour shades or colour collections now communicate a meaning whose universality can only grow in the future.

We have been following this development with great interest. For several years, RAL, together with colour researchers from around the world, has been working on a global codification of the RAL colour language. The now-completed development of the RAL Colour DNA, as the next step in this research project, represents to a certain extent the “grammar” of a transparent, finely-tuned definition of the individual colours. The concept of a RAL Colour DNA was developed together with the colour researcher, Axel Venn, designer and longstanding Professor for Colour Design at the University of Applied Science and Art in Hildesheim, Germany.

The RAL Colour DNA: The individual colours and their exact definition.
The term DNA is taken from molecular science, a discipline that deals with the personalised uniqueness of genetic material. We have adopted the term as a linguistic marker of a characteristic definition that gives each colour shade an (almost) autonomous individuality. Each colour possesses unique characteristics and tendencies that distinguish it from other colours.

An evaluation panel comprising several experienced experts has identified these characteristics and, in a final discussion, awarded a point score for each of them. Technical circumstances and aspects of the colour application as well as material characteristics all contributed to the results. “Composition, whether in architecture or design, takes more precision than we thought,” was the verdict of our experts.

The desire for a uniform colour scheme stretching across different material combinations or to match an existing decor is an essential requirement. If follows the motto: “One wrong note spoils the harmonious melody.”

The euquatorial colours: the framework supporting the RAL DESIGN SYSTEM plus.
Taking inspiration from Phillip Otto Runge (*1777, †1810), who depicted the colour spectrum as a three-dimensional sphere, the RAL DESIGN SYSTEM plus provides a blueprint for an instrument that captures the modern zeitgeist. It is virtually impossible to display the visible colour spectrum two-dimensionally. That is why RAL makes use of a spherical object. It consists of the characteristics of colour (Hue = H), brightness (Lightness = L) and saturation (Chroma = C). The schematic representation of the sphere resembles that of an asymmetrical circular form rather than a classic ball shape. The colorimetric distances in this colour space are defined by the CIELab colour space formula and based on EN ISO 11664-4 “Colorimetry - Part 4: CIE 1976 L*a*b* Colour space”. You can find more information about the structure of the RAL DESIGN SYSTEM plus in our FAQs .

All Colours are captured in a sphere.
Described roughly, the spherical representation of the RAL colour complex follows a north-south axis, going from light to dark, and an equatorial axis in which the sequence of colours along the imagined equator are displayed at their purest and strongest. The colours around the equator possess the loudest qualities and therefore the highest valence and virtuality. It goes without saying that the lightness values of colour shades in the yellow area are completely different to those of red or blue colour nuances because the number of dark shades of yellow is limited.

Thirty-nine colour essays; thirty-nine Chapters.
Each of these so-called equatorial colours is introduced in a lengthy essay that describes the breadth of colour diversity from pure to deep, subdued to fresh and saturated to light for each equatorial strand. The aim is to portray a coloristic family saga, with its personalities, characters and, at times, eccentric or even disreputable features. Colour symbolism, colour marketing, colour psychology, colour history, colour physics, colour pragmatism, colour prognosis, colour cycles, behavioural psychology, statistics, economics, car colours and colour ergonomics as well as bathroom colours, hair and cosmetic colours, colour archaeology, colour futures and colour aesthetics etc. will be portrayed in various levels of intensity and brought together in a colourful, contemporary documentation.

Each month, a new essay on another equatorial colour as well as the associated individual colours will be published. They are available to download for free at this link.

Each individual colour nuance is unique.
Having started with the overarching equatorial colours, we now address the finer details. Each of the 1,825 colour shades in the RAL DESIGN SYSTEM plus has been assigned its own seven-digit colour code. It is accompanied by an auxiliary description made up of the main colour name such as green, lilac, blue etc. and a helpful, real-world descriptor such as Nato blue, Operetta mauve or Sport green. The assignment of helpful descriptors reflects additional characteristics ascribed to each colour, whose substance is presented in an objective, creative and hopefully memorable contextual relation to the colour itself and in a finely-drawn, visual and linguistic distance to the neighbouring colours in the RAL DESIGN SYSTEM plus.

Essay-form explanations condensed into five lines
The description for each colour shade is prefaced by a short, passage shedding light on what is to follow. Depending on the coloristic category, the focus may be on conveying the sense of meaning or sensuality of the colour, or providing an explanation rooted in science or the humanities. The colour’s origins and characteristics, as described in social, historical and future-oriented, artistic or creative resources, are touched on in a way that will hopefully capture the interest of the reader. This, for example, is the description for the colour shade

010 90 05 - Rose cream
A suggestion of colourful poetry, a blank page filled with sweet-as-honey hopes and dreams.
 

010 30 25 - Chestnut red
Bursting with autumnal freshness, shiny and playful, it falls into the hands of children.

Colour and the power of expression – more than just communication
The detailed analysis maps RAL’s own colour definition. It is a sort of “genetic family tree” of the individual colour shades that form the framework of a “molecular network”, to continue the molecular biology metaphor. This detailed definition takes the form of a type of “genetic fingerprinting” based on 10 subject areas which were chosen because of their significance in an innovative and design-driven information era. 

The ten subject areas for analysis are communication, emotion, senses, charisma, function, sustainability, external image, internal impact, perceived value, symbolism.

For each of the subject headings listed above, a further five characteristic qualities were chosen to narrow the definition still further. Each characteristic was scored on a scale of 1 to 5 whereby a score of one signified a weak manifestation of the characteristic and five a strong manifestation.

The core of the analysis therefore consists of a highly detailed statement regarding the effectiveness of colour nuances. A red, blue or green has so many facets that “red” cannot suffice on its own as a metaphor for “love”, “thirst for power” and “warmth”. As soon as red takes on even the smallest hint of pink, it loses the inferred sense of power or aggression normally ascribed to red.
 

Why is an exact definition so important?
Precision is a key component of communication and understanding. The human eye can differentiate between roughly nine to ten million different colours. It is therefore able to analyse minimally different shades of colour, particularly in direct comparison. At the same time, the exact and specific use of colour is becoming more and more important. The expectation of an exact colour reproduction as well as the understanding of the effect of colour has risen sharply in recent years. At the same time, the requirements in the fields of research and communication for precise colour reproduction are also rising. Language and colour profiles require measurable semantic as well as semiotic parameters to determine rank and consonance.

The semantic-semiotic language of colour plays a growing role in both a regional and international context. What, for example, does “rich”, “expensive” or “honest” look like in North America, East Asia or Europe? Do colour messages overlap in similarity or difference? Colours are used with increasing frequency as a substantive means of communicating the contemporary zeitgeist. At the same time, their significance is rising in content-rich marketing concepts and in the design of healthy or safety-related products.

The synaesthetic, associative and application-specific colour descriptions aid colour messages in achieving greater penetration and confidence when correctly interpreted and applied. The more sensitively the qualities of a colour are balanced, the more believable the message. The contents of the RAL Colour DNA therefore afford a differentiated partial glimpse into our cognitive, intuitive, sentimental and emotionally-orientated cosmos.

We hope to bring pleasure to readers and users alike and hope that the RAL Colour DNA opens a new perspective on the characteristics embodied by different shades of colour. At the same time, we want to stress the importance of a sensitive and measured approach to the wonderful material that is colour.


PRIMAL RED - 010 40 53

This colour is thoroughly unsuited to concealment or camouflage. Its magical power captivates us as soon as it becomes visible in the first light of day. What is the fading ruddiness of sunset in comparison to the pure, boundless energy that unfolds in the first dazzling rays of the morning sun?

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PURE LIGHT BLUE - 240 40 40

Blue reveals more than it conceals. This blue, RAL 240 40 40, opens the endless expanse of our senses, feelings and knowledge. – The sense of floating high above the clouds was a popular metaphor for the Romantics, just as the blue flower expressed a yearning for pure love and inner truth.

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