What does a designer with synaesthesia look like?
Close the curtains, the sun smells too loud.
Chloe Adams is a talented graphic and digital designer at Article Ten, passionate about digital design, lettering and typography (amongst many other things). She also happens to have synaesthesia, a perceptual condition where one or more of the senses leads to the simultaneous stimulation of additional sensory or cognitive pathways. Or in more human language; in Chloe’s case, she is able to see the colour of words. We caught up with Chloe on what it’s like living with this unique perspective and how that affects her work.
How would you describe your experience of synaesthesia?
From as long as I remember, when I thought about a specific word, I would see it very clearly in a very specific colour. It’s not something that happens when I’m reading a sentence as such, but all words, letters and numbers have a very specific hue attached to them. These colours have always stayed the same. Although I don’t see these colours as I’m reading a sentence, if I think of a word or someone were to say one to me, the hue is perceived automatically and involuntarily. I have no idea why each letter is the colour it is. I actually realised recently that all the vowels are quite neutral in tone and consonants are usually the brighter letters. I don’t know if that’s just coincidence or if my subconscious has categorised them.
When did you realise that you had the condition?
I started talking about it in my teenage years, just talking to others about how I would think of Monday as red, Tuesday as green, Wednesday as orange etc. and quickly realised that no one else I knew thought like this. It was then years later that a friend of mine sent me an article about something called synaesthesia. That was when I realised it was an actual thing! There are a lot of different types of ways peoples’ senses cross over, but I think the name for the specific type I experience is called Grapheme-colour synaesthesia. I remember reading of how some people see numbers and letters as having personalities which is something I also experience.
Can you give us examples of words that you see in a particular way?
I think the colour the word relates to is mostly down to its first letter, although the rest of the letter in the word can affect it slightly. For example, words beginning with ‘s’ are generally yellow, but the word ‘Saturday’ is a very bright orangey yellow, while ‘Sunday’ is a much paler yellow.
Are there any words that you particularly enjoy or dislike?
I actually really dislike the colour of my own name as it’s a really bright pink.
Are there any downsides to the condition?
There’s not really a downside, but if I ever tell people about it then they usually start saying random words to me, wanting me to tell them what colours they are.
How does the condition affect your work?
I think I have a good understanding of the personalities of colour and what they convey to the audience. For my dissertation at university, I studied the way colour is used in graphic design. I found it interesting to learn about where our relationships to certain colours come from and how they can be used as a tool for visual communication. Since then I’ve worked to harness my alternative perspective on how colours combine across all my design projects, always with the end audience’s experience in mind.