the psychological effects of colour in architecture

Every May in London, designers, architects look forward to attending the many talks, events and seeing the latest innovations during Clerkenwell Design Week. I’m very honoured to be asked back to give two talks, this time at the recently opened Designworks Tiles showroom. My two talks will be on ‘What’s wrong with white’ and ‘Living in Full Colour’.

I decided on doing a talk about white as I’ve noticed over the years white is a colour often favoured by architects. Carrying out a small study of a dozen or so architects from across globe it was interesting to see that white gave them a blank canvas, a clean slate, providing clarity and purity to the space without any ‘colour’ distractions.

Whilst white conveys clarity, purity and simplicity, which maybe the perfect “blank canvas” for the architect, the long term psychological effect on the well-being and behaviour of those working in an all-white environment can create the feelings coldness, sterility, isolation, causing strain. This probably isn’t going to be much to boost productivity and morale.

This amongst other feedback gave very interesting insights and maybe the key to why colour is often seen as an afterthought… which I’ll be discussing in more detail in my talk.

Be aware of jumping on the Google colour bandwagon
Moving staff from a white or grey, monochrome environment to the current trend of creating playful and brightly coloured interiors is swinging the pendulum from the minimalist colour, minimalist sensory stimuli to the multi-coloured, multi-sensory stimuli. It’s potentially just swapping one set of problems for another.

Last July I wrote an article on the Google effect. As an organisation Google are really breaking the new ground when it comes to creating an environment they believe will make for happy, motivated staff. Ultimately their goal is to increase productivity while encouraging new ideas, driving innovation whilst reducing absenteeism.

Whilst they may create a wow impact, it is the longevity of any scheme that businesses need to be mindful of. The Google colour and design scheme expresses their unique brand personality – it’s not for everyone.

Google still needs to be careful of is making sure the workplace doesn’t become too playful. Whilst staff are happy and motivated, it serves no business purpose if productivity is low.

This isn’t necessarily right for every business. Assess whether this colour and design approach is right for your business before jumping on this colour bandwagon.

Applying colour psychology
My second talk will be on Living in full Colour. When you think about it, colour is all around us. It’s used to influence us through our behaviour and mood, making us move more quickly or slowly, feel more relaxed, eat more, increase productivity and even spend more.

The role of architects and designers to create comfortable environments will become increasingly important as cities become overcrowded and we spend even less time in touch with nature.  They can often directly influence millions of people’s lives every single day by the colour choices they make.

“Colour is at the heart of everything
we do.”

Understanding the power of colour and the long term effects for those using the space is becoming increasing important. Colour tone, combination, proportion and placement is key in any project both from a visual perspective and the overall behavioural effects. Even using the right colour but in the wrong tone and you could end up with adverse effects.

We have already reached the dipping point in the UK where more people live in cities than in rural areas. We are changing from being rural to urban species, and by 2050 this will be a global phenomenon. The role of architects and designers in aiding the health and well-being of the global population is going to be more critical and vital, so the on-going colour research is of significant importance. We have a responsibility to get it right.

“… elevation of teaching colour.”

Continual colour research can only have a positive effect in raising the profile and understanding of all aspects and influences of colour. I hope this will lead to the elevation of teaching colour in the interior design and architectural syllabus.

If you’d like to hear more, then come along to Clerkenwell Design Week:

What’s wrong with white
Tuesday 20 May
Designworks Tiles Showroom, Clerkenwell

Exploring how colour can be a powerful tool to create a harmonious work space, resulting in increased productivity and motivation whilst reducing staff absenteeism.
Register for your free seat


Living in full colour
Thursday 22 May
Designworks Tiles Showroom, Clerkenwell

Exploring how the psychological effects of the colour choices of interior designers and architects influence how we feel and behave every day.
Register for your free seat

Looking forward to seeing you there.

© Karen Haller 2014

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