Two tone stripes have been used in design since Roman times and appear throughout western architecture. They are often used to signal hazards or draw one’s attention. Some consider striped designs to be attractive, while others deem them offensive.
Many of the grand cathedrals in Siena and Orvieto utilise these striped designs as do the columns on display at the Palais Royal. Art critic John Ruskin has described stripes as having “nobleness” and “ocular charm”. Iconic fashion designers such as Coco Chanel and Jean Paul Gaultier have popularised striped fashion. Stripes can also be found in furniture and accessories.
In medieval times, the ordered pattern of a stripe represented the disorderly. The use of striped clothing could be found on clowns, mimes, criminals and the insane. According to Michel Pastoureau in his book ‘The Devils Cloth’, in Medieval France some were even sentenced to death for wearing stripes .
Advantages of Stripes
Stripes, particularly two-toned, draw our attention.
In 1858, ‘mariniere’ shirts were worn by the French Navy. They consisted of horizontal blue stripes over white. The use of stripes made it easier to spot sailors who had fallen into the sea. Sports referees also wear stripes to stand out, and zebra crossings utilize eye-catching black and white stripes.
Colour & Design Consultant Vanessa Lesniak from Supawood states that “stripes can be used to provide a sense of movement, to tell a story or lead you in a particular direction.” Vanessa further explains that “horizontal lines have been used to symbolise stability and security. Vertical lines can be used to suggest height”.
A 2017 study review conducted by Dora Hermes  has linked striped designs to movements in the brain that are associated with photosensitive epilepsy. This form of epilepsy is diagnosed when seizures can be induced by visual triggers.
About 1 in 10,000 people are affected by photosensitive epilepsy . You have probably heard of flashing lights and flickering triggering seizures? An example is a Pokemon episode that resulted in 685 children ending up in hospital.
Less known, however, is that static images like stripes are also capable of triggering seizures. It has been suggested that about 30% of those affected by photosensitive epilepsy can be triggered by stationary images . This means that venetian blinds, shadows, clothing, curtains, painted walls and the like could all potentially trigger seizures.
Triggers for seizures in photosensitive people can also cause discomfort and potentially migraines in perfectly healthy people . This implies that we should be particularly sensitive to these facts in design and architecture.
It was observed through ECG testing that specific types of neural oscillations spike when observing stripes. The effect becomes more pronounced when the stripes are of greater contrast and closer together . This makes thin black and white stripes especially potent.
What are Neural Oscillations?
When we refer to neural oscillations, we are describing the movement of electrical activity within the brain. Our brains are really an electrochemical organ, meaning that they generate small amounts of electrical power. It has been suggested that while awake, enough brains connected could generate enough electricity to power a light bulb.
There are 5 states of waves that occur within the brain determined by frequency;
Gamma oscillations are relevant to our normal visual consciousness and are also connected to photosensitive epilepsy. Although we know this much, there is currently no unified belief as to why the two are linked.
Reducing the contrast and decreasing the size of the pattern can lead to less spikes in gamma oscillations as well as less discomfort and potential for seizures. Wider stripes and horizontal lines are also less likely to cause photosensitivity issues. . The obvious solution here is to completely avoid contrasting two-tone regular stripes or avoid using stripes of the same size across the pattern.
Stripes can look amazing and be utilised for a specific purpose. However, it is obvious that our brains can struggle with the extreme regularity in striped images. With studies showing that triggers for seizures in photosensitive people can also cause discomfort and potentially migraines in perfectly healthy people, contrasting two-tone stripes are probably not the best architectural or design choice given their propensity to make people uncomfortable.
Contact us today to speak to a Supawood design consultant.
 Michel Pastoureau, The Devil’s Cloth: A History of Stripes, 2001
 Dora Hermes, Gamma Oscillations and photosensitive epilepsy, Current Biology Magazine, R327-R388, May 8, 2017
 Fisher, R.R., Harding, G., Erba, G., Barkely, H.L., and Wilkins, A. (2005). Photic- and pattern- induced seizures: a review for the Epilepsy Foundation of America Working Group. Epilepsia 46, 1426-1441
 Kastelejin-Nolst Trenite, D.G. (1989). Photosensitivity in epilepsy. Electrophysiological and clinical correlates. Acta. Neurol. Scand. Suppl. 125, 3-149
About the Author
Michael Phillips is an acoustic engineer who specialises in engineering acoustic treatments for both aesthetic and acoustic design requirements.
Creator of bespoke treatments including; diffusion and absorption, wall and ceiling systems, curved beams and panels.
For more information on acoustic solutions, email Michael at [email protected] or phone 61+ 02 6333 8014.
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