Colour Me Happy
Choosing the right colour scheme for your facility can improve productivity and, ultimately, your organisation’s bottom line. Jeff Roberts reports.
The colour red is said to convey passion, strength, energy, excitement and love. It can also increase one’s respiration, raise blood pressure and stimulate appetite. Blue, on the other hand, is said to convey peace, harmony, unity and tranquillity. According to colour specialists blue can also stimulate employee productivity and—in some cultures—keep away evil spirits.
Yellow is said to increase metabolism, improve concentration and make babies cry. Green symbolises intelligence and fertility and is often used in decorating for its calming effect. Orange conveys warmth; purple is an historical symbol of nobility.
Since 1894, psychologists have been studying the affects of colour on the human psyche and while their findings vary—largely due to culture and gender—the fact remains: people react to the colours that surround them. Whether it’s emotional or physiological, a reaction occurs, and that reaction speaks volumes about mood, attitude and overall well-being.
“The colours that appeal to different people are those that have a deeper meaning to the individual from past experiences,” explains Hossam Soliman, general sales manager for Sigma Paints. “I believe, people grow to learn the thoughts, events, situations, and feelings, associated with colours.”
Enter facilities managers (FMs). If it’s been shown that grey instils boredom, it’s not a huge leap of faith to deduce that grey walls beget unproductive employees and disinterested clients.
Moreover, psychologists have long since proven that yellow makes infants uncomfortable and thus more likely to cry, so it stands to reason that yellow walls in a hospital’s paediatrics ward is just foolish. Given what we know, it is clear that colour is about more than just aesthetics. “Colour is a deeply personal thing,” says Amna Saqib, assistant manager and colour specialist for Dulux.
“Many people think that colour is purely cosmetic. The truth is that colour is light. It’s the source of life itself and there is nowhere that colour does not exist.”
Healthy colour scheme
Colour and profitability seem to enjoy a relatively straightforward relationship. Colour schemes within facilities affect the psychology of inhabitants; psychology affects comfort; comfort affects productivity in employees, clients, visitors and staff.
While it is generally the remit of an interior designer to plan and execute colour schemes, it is important for FMs to recognise problematic combinations if they want to sidestep potential pitfalls.
The colour wheel is based on yellow, red, blue and green (YRBG), which are grouped together into colour families.
Colours such as reds, oranges and browns belong to the same family and thus, are considered harmonious. Contrasting colour combinations—or, those located opposite each other on the colour wheel—are said to oppose one another.
Generally, yellows exude warmth, inspiration and vitality. They are considered the happiest colours. Reds are dynamic and passionate and are known to stimulate activity, conversation and appetite. Blues usually bring comfort and serenity, while greens represent freshness, security and tranquillity.
Put simply, a colour scheme is a planned combination of colours for a given space. Though there are several colour schemes from which to choose, the most common include monochromatic, harmonious and contrasting.
“A monochromatic colour scheme is the simplest type and the easiest scheme to live with,” explains Saqib. “In a monochromatic scheme, a single colour is used in different densities to create variation. This scheme is ideal for aggressive personalities.”
A harmonious colour scheme is created by simply choosing colours next to each other on the colour wheel. “These schemes are tranquil and restful,” explains Saqib, “and, again, best suited for aggressive personalities.”
“Contrasting colour schemes are created by mixing opposing colours in different concentrations to achieve a balance of tones,” adds Saqib. It is said that contrasting colour schemes are best suited for docile personalities.
Different strokes for different folks
Colour psychologists have proven that some colours are uplifting, some are depressing.
If employees are in fact a company’s investment and clients are what ensure profitability, steps need to be taken to ensure comfort and well-being of both.
From an FM perspective, it is crucial to consider the nature of one’s industry, size of individual work spaces, availability/positioning of light sources and the preponderance or lack of ambience when specifying colour schemes.
While different colours project different moods, which elicit different behaviours, it’s not as simple as matching one’s industry with a colour. In fact, there seem to be separate trends even within the same facilities.
“In areas designated for waiting or resting at an airport, it is best to make sure the colours are restful and calming such as greens and blues,” explains Nathalie Lorenzo, assistant interior brand manager, MENA, Jotun Paints.
“In restaurants, on the other hand, you would have more reds to increase customers’ appetites, and also turnover.”
It would seem that colour schemes may differ from industry to industry, and also, between departments within the same facility. If that is indeed the case, how can an FM expect to specify a responsible colour scheme within multicultural facilities?
The answer can be based broadly on cultural symbolism. “The trend that we have observed over the years is a distinct interest in yellow tones and special effect finishes. Neutral tones are more popular amongst Europeans, whereas Asians & Arabs prefer deeper tones,” says Saqib.
When considering colour for exterior applications, however, especially within the Middle East, the decision is about functionality and protection as well as aesthetics.
“In terms of infrastructure, there is a sense of unity in terms of choice of colour. White or beige is the standard preference for towers and buildings and residences,” explains Soliman.
Considering the climate in the region, it seems that white or beige is the perfect choice, given the heat, moderate humidity, and dust in the atmosphere. These are the most resistant and least affected by the climate in the region,” he adds.
Colour specialists agree that for multicultural facilities, choose wisely and possibly, use a colour consultant. “It is important to have a basic knowledge about the culture and importance of colours within that culture,” explains Saqib. “The best approach would be to offer colours that are globally accepted.”
“Input from colour specialists is imperative,” adds Soliman. “They are experienced in colour symbolism and trained to recognise the compatibility of colours in different environments and cultures.”
Some common colour incongruities further illustrate the point. In most of the Western world, purple is vibrant colour that represents nobility or royalty. In Thailand however, it is the colour worn by widows in mourning. White symbolises purity in the West and is often worn by brides-to-be, but in some East Asian countries it is the colour worn to funerals.
According to Lorenzo, Jotun colour specialists do conduct studies on colour trends within society but when it comes to a multicultural workplace, the approach should be more straightforward. “Colours in the workplace”, she says, “should be chosen depending on their effect as opposed to preferences. Colour ‘psychology’ doesn’t differ as such; after all, we’re all humans.”
If a colour specialist is consulted, those in the industry agree, it needs to be done early. “After the architects have completed their drawings, we communicate with them and basically specify the colours then,” says Lorenzo.
Take a chance
Changing colour schemes in the workplace can be a risky proposition. Most FMs follow the philosophy that white is neutral, easy and safe. Large facilities often incorporate while walls because while FMs and interior designers understand that colour affects psychology, they don’t generaly understand exactly how.
“[Colour specialists] understand that applying colour on the wall can be quite intimidating. The colour of the clothes we wear can be changed according to our moods, but the colour of a wall is a long term thing,” says Saqib.
“[However] it has been scientifically proven that pure white walls can have an adverse affect on eyesight.”
For an organisation looking to make a change in its colour scheme, unless it wants to take a drastic step, experts recommend transitioning from white to neutral shades and hues.
“People who are sceptical about the usage of colour can start with using neutrals which are basically whites with a hint of a particular colour,” explains Saqib.
Several of the region’s large paint manufacturers and interior design offices employ colour consultants to help clients with decisions and colour centres to help create the perfect shade for homes or work spaces.
We try to interact with architects and consultants during the design stage,” says Murtaza Challawala, marketing and business development manager, Al Gurg Leigh.
“It is not happening everywhere,” he continues, “but certain organisations are doing it right. We work quite closely with Cansult Maunsell, Halfords, Atkins and Halcrow, among others, and many of them do take our advice on using the right colours in the right places.”