Neurodesign & Colors at Work
Ever since color theory class, I’ve been fascinated by how different colors can specifically affect our mood in a room. “Reds are energetic and blues are calming.” We’ve all heard this before, but how is this so?
First of all, they talk about our color preferences in nature, and then how they translate to colors at work; to our work environments. They explain how the brain reacts to different colors, which affect how we perform at work.
Every designer ought to have a basic knowledge of what every color represents. If you haven’t the slightest clue, read on and you’ll be well on your way to the fundamentals of the psychology of colors at work!
“Colorwise, we prefer trees with rich greens and reds. They signify that a tree or environment is nutritious. Yellow, brown, and orange leaves, on the other hand, tell of a lack of nutrition.” Or perhaps we associate them to Autumn when the leaves fall off the trees to prepare for winter?
We associate blue with the blue sky which emanates a sense of openness; indigo to the dark blues of the ocean that exude deepness and mystery; violet to royalty and spirituality; white to purity and cleanliness; and black to darknes.
Greens and browns are neutral and safe, and pops of colors spark our interest and attention. Red is a color of warning yet of attraction. Yellow and orange are happy and optimistic — how can they not? — they’re colors of summer!
Subconsciously, we use nature’s colors as a reference or guide
to the palettes we use in interior spaces.
We know our favorite colors, but are they necessarily the best colors to use in our personal spaces? What about where we work?
Colors at Work
In their book, Isabelle and Katarina explain that different colors have specific effects on us which, in turn, affect how we work:
“The colors we like aren’t necessarily the best colors for work performance. A study was conducted in office spaces with different colors. It showed that the participants preferred working in white and beige offices over red, blue, yellow, violet, and orange ones.
“But those who sat in the white office made more errors in a test compared to those who took the same test in the blue and red offices.”
So no; the colors we prefer don’t necessarily bring out the best work performance in us. In the same study, they concluded that bolder colors in offices make us more alert and energetic even though we might personally prefer calmer and lighter tones.
“Men were calmer in offices with strong colors while
women felt more at ease in rooms with more neutral schemes.”
However, they found that violet and yellow were the most distracting office colors compared to the rest.
In conclusion, blue and red are the winning contenders for workspaces. However, it’s important to note that each of them brings about totally different effects: red works best for detail-oriented work, and blue works best for work that requires creativity. “Creativity, in this context, meaning generating ideas or products that are innovative and valuable.”
Other than the color blue, creativity is also sparked by a positive mood. This can be brought about in environments that feel safe because they help us be more open-minded and more tolerant of risks. “A positive mood stimulates creativity by exploring alternatives without limits.”
“Colors influence work performance and attention.”
The Neuroscience of Color
“There are different networks in the brain that connect our visual impressions (like colors) to other parts of the brain and to the brain stem. These connections affect our perception of what we see and can mentally set our mood. This depends on three things: our earlier experiences and memories; the mood we’re currently in; and the goals we’re striving towards.
“Different colors activate different electrical activities in the brain
which reflect our mood, focus, and alertness.”
“The brain connections that go from our sense of sight to the brain stem physiologically affects our heart rate, perspiration, and respiration.”
Just like beauty, our perception of color is influenced by personal taste, experience, memories, current mood, and goals. But there are universal parameters to how different colors affect us equally. No matter our personal preference, we’re still bound to the subconscious effects of color, which ultimately affect our stress system.
Understanding how different colors can work for or against what we want to accomplish in a work environment — red for focus, blue for creativity, and all the other effects of color and combinations in between — we can hone our use of color palettes and use it to our advantage. We can take advantage of color to inspire performance at work.
“Physiologically, colors can switch the body’s stress system on or off.”
In their chapter on color, the authors then go to explain how colors are used as a marketing tool to grab attention and increase sales. Lastly, they touch on the influence of directions (north, east, south, and west) on our perception of color, but these two topics will be reserved for a separate post.
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This post is based on what I’ve learned by studying Neurodesign, a book written by Swedish authors, Isabelle Sjövall and Katarina Gospic. Both have more than a decade’s experience in their respective fields where Isabelle is an interior designer and Katarina is a brain scientist.