A Guide to Using Colour in Your Workplace Design

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Seeing red, being green with envy, feeling blue… Colour and mood are intrinsically linked in the human brain. Colour shapes how we feel, react, and even perform in life. Colour is important, and designing a space with colour in mind is even more important, because on top of giving your office a personalised atmosphere it can directly impact how you conduct business.

In 2007, the American Psychology Association found that giving University students red-coloured enrollee numbers caused their tests to drop by over 20% compared to students shown black or green instead.

Conversely, another study showed that people work more efficiently and with less errors in an aqua or red coloured room than in a bland, white space. Though red was distracting to a lot of participants, some people could screen through it. This was less so for white, which caused everyone to mess up a little. 

A drab space drains the life from workers, and vivid colours can play havoc on the minds of people who are susceptible to distraction. There’s no correct choice for any office environment, but once you’ve got the obvious wrong choices ticked off (yellow, for example, is a generally poor choice outside of creative spaces, as it can cause people to lose their temper), it comes down to making the right choice to suit your company.

Colour me surprised

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Beats By Dre’s LA offices have a sophisticated working environment. Image via dezeen.

It’s your office, and you’ll need to make it suit your needs. While soft, natural blues and contrasting earthy browns are a strong pick, they suit the evocation of natural elements and a subdued atmosphere – hardly what you’re looking for when selling adventure tours.

Even a usually distracting choice like red can function well in the right circumstance. It’s an active colour, and it raises the blood pressure in short customer-focused interactions, or when you need to appeal to someone’s passion, and a red/white contrasting scheme can bring out both the mundane in red and the excitement in white (think Target or the Salvos).

The most important thing to take away is that your brand comes first. Find an emotion that you want to convey – either to outsiders or to your own staff – and highlight that. Customer-focused and help-oriented? Light blues and soft vanilla are a sure-fire way to calm and relax. Expanding your clothing label into grunge? Drop the neutral, natural tones and get down into the murky depths.

Remember too that your office is your brand. Design in colours that represent you, not just what looks good on paper. One caveat to this is if your company makes large use of distracting and vivid colours on your logo, try going for paler versions of these colours or use them as a contrast against more muted backgrounds to draw the eye.

Contrast

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Google’s Barcelona office showcases textured wooden walls with contrasting feature windows, while being true to the Google brand. Image viadezeen.

Colours interplay. It sounds obvious, but contrast makes for dynamic, usable environments. Simply breaking up a space with suitably matchingcolour harmony, or even throwing up a picture, screen, or window creates focal points and helps break the dreaded creep of monotony. Even the best thought out colour-scheme can get to feel more and more drab over time, and breaking up your office into bite-sized chunks can alleviate that perfect blue by taking the load off of its back.

After all, if too much white in the workplace can make workers feel like they’re undergoing sensory deprivation, then do as much as you can to create vibrant backgrounds so as to engage minds and keep the cogs turning – but be careful not to make them too cluttered!

On top of this, strong contrast provides another function – accessibility. A well contrasted showroom floor, or an area where new customers or business associates are expected to navigate, can identify obstacles, provide a natural path through which people are drawn to walk and highlight important facets of the space that can facilitate ease of use.

A right order for things

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A colourful installation greets visitors at ‘Moo’s’ office in London, showcasing their playful side. Image via The Chromologist.

Good design is dictated by a strong portfolio, not just one good aspect. Your office setup will dictate how your walls contrast with office furniture, and your office space itself will dictate lighting both natural and artificial (which, in turn, distorts your colours!) A great office colour scheme takes time and multiple iterations and tests before going live with a full coat of paint.

Before even thinking about colour, you’re going to need to scope out your surroundings, prepare a flow-space for movement and accessibility, decide on how to best represent your brand image in your space, and think about how this dictates a mood and an image that you can latch onto. Realistically, by that stage the colour should have all but chosen itself with a basic understanding of colour theory and harmony.