From art book to iPad app: Josef Albers’ classic work undergoes a ‘magical’ transformation

“Interaction of Color” — Josef Albers’ iconic book that taught legions of students and professionals alike how to think creatively about color — has been given a modern makeover as an iPad app, just in time for the 50th anniversary of its publication by Yale University Press.

The app, which combines Albers’ traditional teaching methods with 21st-century technology, was created by Yale University Press and the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation and developed by Potion, an award-winning design and technology firm specializing in interactive experiences.

“Albers’ ‘Interaction of Color’ was a landmark in the field of color philosophy,” comments John Donatich, director of Yale University Press. “And while the paperback book served decades of students so well, the new app gives us a chance to adapt this classic work to the new digital landscape, taking advantage of technology to literally enhance the experience Professor Albers intended.”

The app has been designed to benefit professionals and students, artists and design practitioners across disciplines, arts educators, and anyone who wishes to learn more about how to think creatively about color and its uses. “We’re very proud and excited to be able to update this book to a new generation of students, artists, and designers of every stripe,” says Donatich.

The idea for the Interaction of Color app “in a way originated from Albers himself,” explains Michelle Komie, senior editor of art and architecture at Yale University Press. “Because of the way he very carefully and thoughtfully organized the original project, it translates beautifully to iPad. There was no reason to change much of the look of the project because it’s beautiful.”

Features of the app include a new color palette tool which allows users to engage in the hands-on experimentation with color that Albers placed at the center of his work with students; the full text of “Interaction of Color”; over 125 of the original color studies; archival video of Albers in the classroom; original video commentary by experts explaining Albers’ principles; and interviews with leading designers and artists explaining how they use color in their professional practices.

Using the Interaction of Color app is a “very tactile experience,” Komie says. “You feel as if you are working with paper, which was a very important part of Albers’ methodology.”

Josef Albers (1888-1976) was a German-born American artist and educator whose work, both in Europe and in the United States, formed the basis of some of the most influential and far-reaching art education programs of the 20th century. Chair of the Department of Design at the Yale School of Art from 1950 to 1958, Albers conceived of “Interaction of Color” as a handbook and teaching aid for artists, instructors, and students. The book presents Albers’ unique ideas of color experimentation in a way that is valuable to specialists as well as to a larger audience. Originally published in 1963 as a limited silkscreen edition with 150 color plates, “Interaction of Color” first appeared in paperback in 1971, featuring 10 representative color studies chosen by Albers. The paperback has remained in print ever since and remains one of the most influential resources on color.

“One of the things that is so alluring about working with this app,” says Komie, “is that there is a constant sense of magic and discovery and inspiration. This is not only embodied in the project itself, but is also a sense of art and the world that Albers wanted to pass on to his students in a much larger way.”

The Interaction of Color app is available free from the App Store on iPad, and the complete version is available as an in-app purchase for $9.99. The Interaction of Color website includes further information, a sampler of video commentary, and a demo video.