The Power of Color

It’s September, and the kids are officially back to school. This time of year always brings back the feeling of hopeful excitement at the thought of new school supplies.

I’ve been out of school for quite some time, but there is still something magical about opening a new box of crayons and seeing all their brightly colored points standing at attention and ready to create. Well, as an adult, it’s now office supplies, but you get the idea.

It turns out there is a science behind that magical feeling. Did you know there are approximately 10 million colors in the world? Even more astounding is that each one has the power to evoke feelings and emotions in humans.

That’s some powerful stuff. But the best thing about color is that you can easily harness its power to impact your employees’ moods, productivity and overall wellness.

The Science Stuff
Color impacts everything from fashion, interior design and product development to marketing, web design and corporate branding. Design specialists, companies and consultants use the science of color to influence consumers and end-users.

So how does it work?There are three essential parts: symbolism, psychology and theory.

Color symbolism is the common association and attributes generally applied to specific colors. For example, red is known to represent passion, warmth, danger and aggression. At the same time, purple evokes feelings of luxury, power, royalty and nobility.

Color psychology is the study of color as it determines human behavior. It works to unravel how color influences our day-to-day decisions and moods. A great example of this is the use of hot and cool colors in placebo pill studies. It’s been proven that red and yellow pills are assumed to be stimulants, while blue pills are associated with depressants.

Color theory blends the art and the science of color to create an impactful design that evokes the desired human response. There are countless definitions and design applications that go into color theory. However, there are way too many concepts to cover in just one article, so I’ll stick to an introductory overview. Color theory involves three elements to keep in mind:

-Color wheel: A color circle, based on primary colors, expanding into hues blended from the original red, yellow and blue.
-Color harmony: Visually appealing applications of colors.
-Color context: How color reacts when used with other colors. Think complement and contrast.

An Insight into Emotion
“Colors, like features, follow the changes of the emotions.” — Pablo Picasso

Picasso was right; color and emotion go hand in hand. So how can you harness the power of color and use it to create the ultimate workspace? Let’s start with the feel-good stuff!

If you’re designing a new office space or want to take some of this COVID downtime to refresh your offices for a return to work, start by making a list of desired outcomes.

For example, you probably want your team to feel motivated, inspired and safe. You’d also like to see high productivity and focus. And finally, you want a space that supports mental and physical wellbeing.

Next, let’s review a few colors and what they represent.

Gray
Representing neutrality, gray is a popular color in many workplaces. The use of gray tones creates a generally modern and stylish office space. However, inadequate use of this color can make employees feel depressed and low-spirited.

Orange
Enthusiasm and joy! Orange exudes warmth and is considered a fun color that provides emotional strength, youthfulness and energy. Use a shade of orange in a break room or communal area as it encourages social communication and creativity.

Blue
It’s called the color of intellect, and it brings confidence, security, loyalty and trust. In addition, blue has been shown to increase productivity and focus.

Yellow
Yellow brings creativity, confidence and optimism. Incorporating this color at your workplace will boost employees’ positivity.

Green
This color depicts perfect balance, nature and harmony. Many times workplaces where people work in late hours feature a version of the color green. It’s generally pleasant and doesn’t negatively impact work performance.

Purple
This color has a lot of history behind it. As mentioned above, purple evokes a feeling of nobility, likely because it was once considered only for royalty. Today, purple promotes spirituality and comfort. Careful use of this color can bring comfort to your employees while at work.

Beware, though, as with most good things in life, overusing any color can have the opposite intention and negatively affect employees, failing to extract desired performance. When in doubt, consult an expert!

Bring It All Together

Magic time. Here are some tips on implementing and working with color in your workplace

Develop a Plan
Use your floor plan to determine what areas work best for your desired outcome. First, consider the space and function. For example, office production areas would most likely require colors that increase productivity, clarity and concentration. In contrast, non-production areas need to calm, soothe and help employees recharge their mental batteries.

Don’t forget about furniture! Soft seating is a great area to go wild. You can get away with a neutral color palette for walls and floors and incorporate pops of intentional bold colors among your furniture pieces.

Work the Color Wheel
Your next step is to evaluate appropriate colors and palettes and assign them to your plan. Keep in mind not all colors have to be the boldest of the bold. Remember, there are 10 million options out there. Shade and tint your way up and down the color spectrum. Don’t forget about black and white. Both of these basics are bold color elements that hold their own in any design.

From here, you’ll pick the best options and match them to the spaces where you want to encourage specific feelings or behaviors. For example, if you have a room where you want employees to rest and recharge, red is probably not your best bet. Instead, you’ll want to pick a color that helps revitalize and calm.

Leverage Your Light
There is a connection between light and color! Be mindful of how your electric and natural light interacts with the colors in your space. For example, white is naturally reflective. If you have a lot of natural light and a lot of white in your area, you could inadvertently create too bright a space or increase glare issues. Conversely, you could risk eye strain, poor focus and other adverse effects by utilizing darker colors and having dimly lit rooms.

The End Result
We’ve learned some hard lessons over the past 18 months. We can’t control everything, but how we use our space is not one of them. Now more than ever, it’s crucial to provide a safe, inspiring environment for your people. Be intentional. Be strategic. Now that you’re armed with a bit of insight into the impact of color in design, you’re ready to create healthy, productive and motivating workspaces for all your employees.

Courtnay Bradley, WELL AP, is founder and chief purpose officer at Trilogie and host of The Up/Down Podcast and Trilogie’s Table Talk live stream series. Her passion for people fuels her obsession with helping companies design and furnish work environments that truly inspire and engage employees. In 2009 she started Trilogie with the sole purpose of creating kick-ass workspaces that help organizations thrive.