The executive summary
Color management is a system for communicating color among digital image files and output devices in the same way that spoken language is a system for communicating ideas among humans. Color management follows the rules, structure, and conventions of spoken language.
Using the metaphor of spoken language is an excellent way for us to understand the conceptual underpinnings of color management. Just as there is one universal set of ideas that humans express, there is one universal set of colors that humans see. I offer the following parallel couplets to underscore their similarities and to clarify terminology. We'll return to these ideas from time to time as we get into the practical implementation of color management.
Humans use words within a language to express ideas.
Digital image files use numbers within a color space to express colors.
There are many languages in which to express those ideas.
There are many color spaces in which to express those colors.
Determining which ideas specific words express requires knowing which language is being spoken.
Determining which colors specific numbers describe requires knowing in which color space the digital image file resides.
Unambiguous communication between two languages requires a translation that references the universal set of all ideas/concepts known to man.
Unambiguous communication between two color spaces requires a translation that references the universal set of all colors visible to the human eye.
The language we speak to express ideas and concepts is so much a part of our being that we don't think consciously about the words we say, only the ideas we express; we are fluent. As we learn the vocabulary, grammar, and structure of the language of color management, the parallel to spoken language is so close that we can rely on our knowledge of language to help us keep the big picture in mind as we deal with the inevitable web of details.