Books

Color, Coded: A New App for Josef Albers

Josef Albers (image via Wikimedia)
Josef Albers (image via Wikimedia)

The 20th-century artist and academic Josef Albers made many significant contributions to the field of geometric abstraction, though the most enduring element of his pedagogical legacy is his 1963 textbook Interaction of Color. The landmark work of color theory continues to influence new generations of students in architecture, design, and art. This year, when we learned that Yale University Press (YUP) was releasing an iPad version to commemorate the tome’s 50th anniversary, we were eager to see how the book’s time-tested content would make the jump to a new medium.

We were provided with a review copy of the app, which retails for $9.99 in the App Store (a pared-down free version is also available) and was developed for YUP, the original book’s publisher, by the “interaction design” firm Potion. In short order it became clear that Albers’s work was fundamentally at home in the medium. It functions like this: on the app’s home page, select between two categories, “Text” and “Plates & Commentary.” Things proceed logically from there, with the “Text” category consisting of 27 chapters accompanied by didactic videos, some of Albers himself, and various other multimedia. “Plates & Commentary” replicates the original book’s illustrations under a “Study” subcategory while allowing for a surprisingly well-designed “Create” option, which transforms the works into blank templates.

The centerpiece of the app’s design triumph is surely the color wheel used for the “Create” function, which other software designers in the arts would do well to replicate. Those familiar with Interaction of Color may also appreciate the enhanced textbook element of the app, but new students of Albers probably have the most to gain from the new package, which is both cheaper and more enriching than the original text. The free version strips out the textbook content and focuses instead on the most widely appealing component of the app, the create-an-Albers function, and allows one to export designs to social media.

Our quibbles with the app were minor and logistical: it would be helpful to define color more rigorously for those intending to use the app as a design tool (e.g. provide color codes), and it can be a bit sluggish on the old, first-generation iPad, though that’s probably not a fair critique anymore.

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Interaction of Color is available in the App Store for $9.99, with a free limited version.

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