Search by Color: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

I have to say that I’m a big fan of alternative search options when it comes to internet searching. Of course, there is simply no debating the usefulness of keywords and Boolean operators when searching the internet, but not every query is easily expressed in words. This is especially true of image searches. You might not have the foggiest idea which word or words will provide the results you’re looking for. You might have tried all the words you can think of and found no useful results. Sometimes what your looking for simply can’t be put into words.

But what about color?

Cooper Hewitt, the Smithsonian Design Museum is notable for several reasons. One: it is the only museum in America exclusively dedicated to historic and contemporary design.

Two: It’s located in the sprawling 64-room mansion built by industrial magnate Andrew Carnegie on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

source: cooperhewitt.org

Whoa.

…and Three: While perhaps not as impressive as the last two facts, its website is also home to a very cool feature: browse by color. While you can search by color in an advanced Google image search, Google’s color search is a secondary search parameter, one that can be applied after you’ve entered a search keyword.

By comparison, the Cooper Hewitt color search, Colors!, is a very slick tool that emphasizes browsing rather than search, making it better suited to more nebulous queries. Plus, while Google’s color search is limited to 15 color options, visitors to Cooper Hewitt’s site can search the collection by 118 different colors. You read that right: 118! So, how do they do it?

Objects with images now have up to five representative colors attached to them. The colors have been selected by our robotic eye machines who scour each image in small chunks to create color averages. These have then been harvested and “snapped” to the grid of 118 (of a possible 139) different colors—derived from the CSS4 palette and naming conventions—below to make navigation a little easier.

If you think it sounds interesting, definitely give it a try. For example, here is a selection of some of the things that come up under mediumvioletred and the hex value #c71585

There are, of course, some limitations to the function. First of all, only a small fraction of the collection has been digitized, so some colors have very limited results. Also, as noted in the quote above, images are sorted into five color categories, so works with numerous, varied colors will only appear in a maximum of five color headings.

Still, while it may appear to be more novelty than necessity, Colors! is a potentially very useful tool for the kind of image search that would normally take one to Tumblr, Pinterest, or similar. It’s a visual playground for anyone seeking examples of graphic design, pattern, textiles, posters, prints, etc. from around the world and across time.

Of course, this isn’t the only way to explore the collection. You can search by time period, country, location in the mansion, people, tags, and types.

Oh, and you can search by keyword, too.

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One thought on “Search by Color: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

  1. Pingback: WDL, DPLA, APIs and YOU: Doing Stuff with Digital Collections | Illinois Pixels

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