AACHEN, Germany - The average person looking at a new car can quickly – and often subconsciously – determine whether colours in a car’s cabin match or clash. And this blink-of-an-eye judgement is often critical to the person’s opinion of the quality of the vehicle.
Understanding this fundamental judgement point, Ford engineers have been conducting tests to understand the limits of human colour perception and their tolerances for subtle variations in colours in adjoining materials.
These variations occur when different materials, finishes, production processes and even suppliers are employed. For example, the material used to make the outer ring of a steering wheel is different from the material used to produce the centre; and plastic is used to make bumpers which adjoin metal panels.
“First impressions really do count when it comes to effectively communicating our cars as quality products -- and colour is key to that,” said Carsten Starke, research engineer, Ford of Europe. “Carrying out extensive testing of the limits of human colour perception and tolerance makes sure that this is not left to chance.”
Experts at Ford’s European Research and Advanced Engineering Centre, in Aachen, Germany, developed three test programmes. The perception and tolerance tests help make sure the many colours employed in the thousands of different materials and finishes that go into each Ford vehicle complement and match each other -- even in the eyes of the most demanding test subjects.
“Many factors determine the ability of people to spot colour variations,” said Carsten Starke, research engineer, Ford vehicle interior technologies. “Younger people’s eyes are generally more discerning, while women are more sensitive to mismatching. Very small differences in perception only tend to be visible to as few as one in ten of those tested – though this doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about the subject’s tolerance.”
The three Ford colour tests are:
Colour perception test
Using a high-resolution, colour-calibrated computer screen, engineers test their subjects’ ability to differentiate between two very similar shades. Participants identify numbers from one to nine displayed against a contrasting background. The contrast is reduced as the test progresses, making it more and more difficult to identify the number.
Colour tolerance test
This test measures tolerance to colour differentiation. Participants are asked to highlight differences between tiles, the texture, size and positioning of which are constantly changed. Tolerances are greater when tiles are further apart. This emphasises a greater requirement to make sure vehicle components that sit flush with one another have a closer colour-matching requirement.
Colour communication test
This test improves colour understanding and communication. Participants are again asked to examine a tile on a computer screen; they are then prompted to manipulate the hue, saturation, brightness and contrast and identify matching tiles. The same method is also used to help assess the readability of displays and instruments.