The psychology of color for workplaces

Have you noticed how fast food chains like Pizza Hut, Burger King or KFC incorporate the color red into their brand? They all even add a dash of yellow. Coincidence? Not at all. Such brands are capitalizing on the impact that colors have on us. Red induces appetite and stimulation, while yellow is associated with friendliness. Together, they make for a warm and delicious experience!

Leslie Harrington, E.D. of The Color Association of USA, says, we have multiple levels of association with colors – social, personal and cultural. Based on these connections, the impact of colors can make or break people’s experience. Thus, much research has gone into the role of colors at workplaces – a field called visual ergonomics. A study at the University of Hawaii states that colors have a strong influence on employees’ productivity levels, moods and attitudes.

In a study by the University of Texas, researcher Nancy Kwallek tested the impact of color on productivity, by assigning tasks to three groups of people. These were to be completed in three different rooms painted red, white, and aqua. Some individuals reported getting distracted by the red and aqua, while others performed just fine. However, both groups made errors while working in the white room. Kwallek says, white doesn’t help us be productive, because it’s associated with the sterility of hospitals.

Red, as seen in the study above, is a tricky color. Research at the University of Rochester found that excessive exposure to red causes reduced focus, higher heart rate and anxiety. It hinders collaboration and thoughtfulness. But if you really want the stimulation and passion that red provides, design experts from ‘The Architectural Team’ in Boston, suggest using it as an accent color. Have it on a window pane, or a plant. Not the whole wall!

Invoking the hospital metaphor again, how do you feel when you walk into one – clean and boring? That’s certainly not how you want to feel at your workplace. To impact moods positively, colors of blue and/ or green are desirable. Kortney Edge from the University of Florida found that blue helps lower heart rates, blood pressure and respiration. Harrington concurs, adding that blue is associated with dependability and trustworthiness, automatically evoking ease. Green is known to be easier on the eye, since it’s associated with nature. It is soothing, fertile and feels harmonious. In fact, it might be just the color to facilitate innovation at work. The Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin says green enhances creative performance. However, steer clear of the darker shades of green, as they are more melancholic!

Are you wondering where yellow features in encouraging positivity? Though it’s true that yellow makes us feel upbeat and hopeful, it cannot be the dominant one at work. Physics tells us that bright yellow reflects maximum amount of light, thus straining our eyes, overstimulating our brain and causing irritability.

When designing an office space, research evidence like the above can be overwhelming, prompting us to lean towards neutral colors of gray or beige. However, know that neutrals are perceived to be suppressive, and in the case of gray, gloomy.

What does one do then?

Create a mix of spaces that induce different experiences. You can even use neutral colors as a base. But ensure that you balance it with bursts of accent colors for depth. You’d be surprised how effectively you can weave all the colors into a single space this way!

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