What Color is the Dress: Or (The Importance of Lighting in Retail Environments)
02.27.2015
Ryan Fetters in black and blue dress, the dress, white and gold dress

The difference between poor lighting (left) and good lighting (right) in a retail environment cannot be overstated. Image © Tumblr and Ryan Gobuty

The Internet is literally blowing up with a question posed on Tumblr over the color of a dress. A photo posted to the site shows a striped dress taken with a cellphone that can, depending on your eye sensitivity or screen brightness, appear either white and gold or black and blue. Besides driving untold numbers of people nuts trying to figure out what color the dress really is, it now has developed its own hashtag battle: #whiteandgold versus #blackandblue. You know things are serious when they elicit a hashtag battle.

The truth of the matter is that the dress really is black and blue, but a combination of a poor cellphone photo and some questionable lighting decisions in the space the photo was taken have caused a tsunami of Internet commentary and consternation. I believe this is an example of a larger issue in our ever growing world of social connectivity via mobile devices. Last year over 27,800 photos were uploaded to Instagram every minute. Facebook clocked in at 208,300 per minute. That is impressive, but if we assume, as I do, that most of these photos were taken with or generated on a mobile device connected to the Internet, then what we are seeing is very dependent on the quality of the camera device and the user. This is problematic for some if they happen to rely, represent or sell the item, place or activity being photographed. It is in their best interest to show the subject matter in the best light, if you will.

Which brings me to the subject of this rant: lighting and space design really matter. And they matter even more now that spaces are being represented to millions of people who experience them through a digital portal rather than in person. The dress in the photo appeared white and gold to a significant number of viewers: at one point a survey clocked in 70% or more seeing this color combo, due to an optical illusion exacerbated by the overexposed cellphone snap. A blue and black dress will appear more white and gold if under a bluer tone of lighting (who’d have thought?).

Sellers of product, with their professional photo-shoots and expensive marketing campaigns, will lose more and more control of their visual message to social networks and mobile campaigns driven by consumers that may not take the care to show a dress in the best light. It is in everyone’s best interest to show the dress in the best light and call attention to its best assets.

Ryan Fetters is an Associate and designer in the San Francisco office. He has been with Gensler for 5+ years and has been involved in a range of projects from a historic building addition at the UC Berkeley campus to multiple retail and hospitality ventures. Ryan is fascinated with how people engage with a space and technology to enhance and improve their experience therein. Strategizing and conceptualizing how customers will interact with a new design makes his day and he strives to keep up with the most recent trends and opportunities within the design world. Contact him at ryan_fetters@gensler.com.
Article originally appeared on architecture and design (http://www.gensleron.com/).
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