Colour Theory

Introduction


Colour psychology is study of hues as a determinant of human behavior. Different colours have different influences on the perception, impacting your mood, emotions, performance, physiological reactions or even causing prejudices to be formed. Colour is a purely visual phenomenon and is widely used in fields such as Marketing & Branding as well as Interior, Product & Fashion Design and Art. 


Do you feel anxious in a yellow room? Does the color blue make you feel calm and relaxed? Artists and interior designers have long believed that color can dramatically affect moods, feelings, and emotions. "Colors, like features, follow the changes of the emotions," the artist Pablo Picasso once remarked. 


Colour, in interior design, is a powerful communication tool, influencing the user subconsciously. It is a fundamental building block of creating any space and can have an impact on how you think, feel and act. The colour scheme of an office space is derived from various factors including the theme, the overall look and feel the design aims to create, basic understanding of colour theory in commercial spaces and a reflection of the brand image of the company occupying the space. 


Colour Wheel & The Impact of Various Colours



RED


Positive: Physical courage, strength, warmth, energy, basic survival, 'fight or flight', stimulation, masculinity, excitement.


Negative: Defiance, aggression, visual impact, strain.


Being the longest wavelength, red is a powerful colour. Although not technically the most visible, it has the property of appearing to be nearer than it is and therefore it grabs our attention first. Its effect is physical; it stimulates us and raises the pulse rate, giving the impression that time is passing faster than it is. It relates to the masculine principle and can activate the "fight or flight" instinct. Red is strong, and very basic. Pure red is the simplest colour, with no subtlety. It is stimulating and lively, very friendly. At the same time, it can be perceived as demanding and aggressive. 

In interior design, it is to be used as an accent, being far too overpowering to be used as a base colour. While it can be used as a reflection of brand colours, it may not be the most ideal colour as a large part of an office colour scheme. 


ORANGE


Positive: Physical comfort, food, warmth, security, sensuality, passion, abundance, fun.


Negative: Deprivation, frustration, frivolity, immaturity.


Since it is a combination of red and yellow, orange is stimulating and reaction to it is a combination of the physical and the emotional. It focuses our minds on issues of physical comfort - food, warmth, shelter etc. It is a 'fun' colour. Negatively, it might focus on the exact opposite - deprivation. This is particularly likely when warm orange is used with black. Equally, too much orange suggests frivolity and a lack of serious intellectual values.

Orange can reflect joy in lighter and brighter shades and dullness when is darker shades. Being a stimulating colour, it can be used in creative spaces as an accent or feature in its more lighter tones. It is ideal for spaces such as breakout areas, game/break rooms or a pantry/cafeteria as orange is also known to increase appetite.


YELLOW


Positive: Optimism, confidence, self-esteem, extraversion, emotional strength, friendliness, creativity.


Negative: Irrationality, fear, emotional fragility, depression, anxiety, suicide.


The yellow wavelength is relatively long and essentially stimulating. In this case the stimulus is emotional, therefore yellow is the strongest colour, psychologically. The right yellow will lift our spirits and our self-esteem; it is the colour of confidence and optimism. Too much of it, or the wrong tone in relation to the other tones in a colour scheme, can cause self-esteem to plummet, giving rise to fear and anxiety.

Yellow is a warm bright colour, whose lighter shades have been extremely popular as a base shade for an colour scheme. The colour promotes creativity and should be ideal in brainstorming rooms, product development rooms, huddle rooms and even design studios. Yellow, in its lighter shades, is also a relatively neutral colour which can be used on larger surfaces as compared to accents or features.  


GREEN


Positive: Harmony, balance, refreshment, universal love, rest, restoration, reassurance, environmental awareness, equilibrium, peace.


Negative: Boredom, stagnation, blandness, enervation.


Green strikes the eye in such a way as to require no adjustment whatever and is, therefore, restful. Being in the centre of the spectrum, it is the colour of balance - a more important concept than many people realise. When the world about us contains plenty of green, this indicates the presence of water, and little danger of famine, so we are reassured by green, on a primitive level. Negatively, it can indicate stagnation and, incorrectly used, will be perceived as being too bland.

Green is a calming, soothing colour which highly promotes harmony. It is supposed to bring about serenity and peace in its lighter shades whereas in its brighter shades it brings about harmony. Green is also a pure reflection of nature, which contributes to increasing productivity. 


BLUE


Positive: Intelligence, communication, trust, efficiency, serenity, duty, logic, coolness, reflection, calm.


Negative: Coldness, aloofness, lack of emotion, unfriendliness.


Blue is the colour of the mind and is essentially soothing; it affects us mentally, rather than the physical reaction we have to red. Strong blues will stimulate clear thought and lighter, soft blues will calm the mind and aid concentration. Consequently it is serene and mentally calming. It is the colour of clear communication. Time and again in research, blue is the world's favourite colour. However, it can be perceived as cold, unemotional and unfriendly.

In commercial design, it is probably the most popular non-neutral colour. Blue promotes several aspects required to boost productivity, i.e. efficient, clear, logical thinking, a sense of duty, as well as communication. 


VIOLET


Positive: Spiritual awareness, containment, vision, luxury, authenticity, truth, quality.


Negative: Introversion, decadence, suppression, inferiority.


The shortest wavelength is violet, often described as purple. It takes awareness to a higher level of thought, even into the realms of spiritual values. It is highly introvertive and encourages deep contemplation, or meditation. It has associations with royalty and usually communicates the finest possible quality. Being the last visible wavelength before the ultra-violet ray, it has associations with time and space and the cosmos.

Violet or purple is too closely associated with decadence and royalty to be a sound colour in the scheme of an office space, however, it can be used in loose furniture. However, its lighter shades could be used in break rooms or meditation pods.  


GREY


Positive: Psychological neutrality.


Negative: Lack of confidence, dampness, depression, hibernation, lack of energy.


Pure grey is the only colour that has no direct psychological properties. It is, however, quite suppressive. A virtual absence of colour is depressing and when the world turns grey we are instinctively conditioned to draw in and prepare for hibernation. Unless the precise tone is right, grey has a dampening effect on other colours used with it. 

Grey is a neutral tone which, when used correctly, can reflect elegance. It is widely used in commercial spaces for its neutrality.


BLACK


Positive: Sophistication, glamour, security, emotional safety, efficiency, substance.


Negative: Oppression, coldness, menace, heaviness.


Black is all colours, totally absorbed. The psychological implications of that are considerable. Black is essentially an absence of light, since no wavelengths are reflected and it can, therefore be menacing; many people are afraid of the dark. Positively, it communicates absolute clarity, with no fine nuances. It communicates sophistication and uncompromising excellence and it works particularly well with white. Black creates a perception of weight and seriousness.

Black is an extremely overpowering colour, making any space look smaller. Not an ideal colour in any workspace.


WHITE


Positive: Hygiene, sterility, clarity, purity, cleanness, simplicity, sophistication, efficiency.


Negative: Sterility, coldness, barriers, unfriendliness, elitism.


Just as black is total absorption, so white is total reflection. In effect, it reflects the full force of the spectrum into our eyes. It communicates, "Touch me not!" White is purity and, like black, uncompromising; it is clean, hygienic, and sterile. The concept of sterility can also be negative. Visually, white gives a heightened perception of space. 

White makes spaces look larger, but can also make them appear boring. White denotes, clarity and simplicity which is ideal for a workspace. However, it can become monotonous when used too much. It is also a difficult colour to maintain.


BROWN


Positive: Seriousness, warmth, Nature, earthiness, reliability, support.


Negative: Lack of humour, heaviness, lack of sophistication.


Brown usually consists of red and yellow, with a large percentage of black. Consequently, it has much of the same seriousness as black, but is warmer and softer. It has elements of the red and yellow properties. Brown has associations with the earth and the natural world. It is a solid, reliable colour and most people find it quietly supportive. 

Brown exudes warmth but is yet a very heavy colour to be used in large quantities. It however, is a decent option as a flooring (wooden and/or carpet) or even as an accent. 

MONOCHROMATIC


Monochromatic color schemes are made up of different tones, shades and tints within a specific hue. These are the simplest color schemes to create, as they’re all taken from the same hue.

Monochromatic schemes are easy to create, but can also be boring when done poorly. Adding in a strong neutral like white or black can help keep things interesting.



ANALOGOUS


Analogous color schemes are the next easiest to create. Analogous schemes are created by using three colors that are next to each other on the 12-spoke color wheel. Traditionally, analogous color schemes all have the same chroma level, but by using tones, shades, and tints we can add interest to these schemes.



COMPLEMENTARY


Complementary schemes are created by combining colors from opposite sides of the color wheel. In their most basic form, these schemes consist of only two colors, but can easily be expanded using tones, tints, and shades.



SPLIT COMPLEMENTARY


Split complementary schemes add more complexity than regular complementary schemes. In this scheme, instead of using colors that are opposites, you use colors on either side of the hue opposite your base hue.



TRIADIC


Triadic schemes are made up of hues equally spaced around the 12-spoke color wheel. This is one of the more diverse color schemes. They can be difficult to do well, but add a lot of visual interest to a design when they are.



CUSTOM


Custom color schemes are the hardest to create. Instead of following the predefined color schemes discussed above, a custom scheme isn’t based on any formal rules. 



Why is Colour Theory Important?


Brand Image


A company has a certain type of work culture and brand image that should be ideally reflected in their workspace as well. Using colour schemes is a key feature in developing the theme of the space. The scheme should not only reflect the company culture and the image they are aiming to create but also be developed on the basis of the use of the space. For example- a corporate culture company would lean towards a neutral colour palette to show maturity, steadiness and imply a serious work atmosphere. However, the break room/social area of that same office can have a slightly brighter palette. 


Creates a certain atmosphere


The colour scheme of a space is a highly visual element which definitely occupies the attention of the user of the space. It can have an influence on the mood, emotions and even thoughts of a person. Each colour resonates with their characteristics which have a different impact on users, therefore any room can have the desired effect by playing on its colour scheme. For example- Orange and yellow are supposed to boost creativity, making them ideal for a brainstorming room while different shades of blue can give a relaxing or focused feel, making it ideal for an accent in the open area or even a gaming zone. 

How can Colour be incorporated?


Wall finishes


Perhaps the most obvious way to incorporate colour in the interiors of the space, walls are generally painted in whites, greys, and the brand colours of the company. However, wall finishes (in any colour) should not be restricted to basic paint. Textured paint, use of other materials such as faux turf, wood or fabric, exposed walls in brick or concrete, are all non-traditional ways of having colours on walls. 


Ceiling


The ceiling is a large, yet generally overlooked part of the space, especially commercial offices. While being traditionally white painted, other colours are known to have been good options. For example, grey would be the ideal colour for an open, exposed ceiling, because while it could merge better with service pipes, it does not attract much attention, allowing other spatial features to shine. Pale blues, off-whites and greys are good alternatives to an ordinary white. 


Materials


Colour doesn’t necessarily have to be on a fixed surface. The colour palette of the fabrics of loose furniture, the laminates used of the storage units, the finishes of bought goods and accessories are all subtle but effective ways to add colour to the space without overdoing it. 


Installations/Artwork/Graphics


The finishing touches of a space tend to communicate heavily of the type of company it truly is. Colour can be added in the basic graphics (room names) to any form of artwork. The installations and art pieces are done in a way to reflect the company culture and their vision for themselves. 

Case Studies


Zilingo 


Zilingo is a rather young company, and thus, wanted to attract potential talent for their Mumbai Headquarter in Lower Parel. The contemporary theme heavily depended on an almost neutral base palette of white, grey and blue with the furniture being relevant to the brand colours of the company. 


The walls, ceiling, columns and workstations are done in the neutral base palette while all the loose furniture, locker storage units, ceiling installation, carpet, lighting fixtures and accessories reflect the brand logo which uses red, yellow, purple and black. The bright colours of the brand accentuate the space and give it a vibrant feel, accompanied by the artificial greenery. 



WorkAmp Estate


WorkAmp Estate, the coworking space based in Andheri, primarily displays a neutral colour palette owing to the fact that it is, afterall, a shared work space. The use of white and grey as base colours with wooden accents being added for warmth in terms of workstations and loose furniture. 

The palette gives an almost serious look and feel to the space. Since several companies work out of the space, the concept of having a basic tone for the space makes sense. 


Conclusion


Colour is a very obvious visual element that cannot possibly be ignored by a user. While each colour has its own advantages and disadvantages, creating the colour palette of a space is a tricky subject. 

The palette needs to be able to communicate what the company culture, brand and vision is. Just by taking a look at the colour palette, one can deduce if a company is corporate or quirky, hierarchical or clan cultured. The employees, who are the primary users of the space and spend the most amount of time there, are also heavily impacted by their surroundings. The space can brighten their mood or dull it down. 

While colour is a purely visual phenomenon, its impact is psychological on more than just one level and to more than one type of user and therefore needs to be considered in depth.


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