Psyched for Color

As a species, humans have a long fascination with color. In fact, the September 2017 edition of Home Accents Today carried an article that gave this indication of the length of that fascination.

Specific colors are associated with certain feelings and emotions inevitably tied to the human psyche. They are instinctively and usually subliminal … [and] can be traced all the way back to the early Chinese and Egyptians.

Because we are human, our tastes, our styles, our perceptions, our individual and collective psychologies, our consciousness, and our perceptions of and reactions to color are ever-evolving. Likewise, we can see that evolution in a number of other articles and publications.

Don’t Blink

In 2005, the University of Minnesota published an article by Nancy Kwallek, Ph.D., professor and director of the interior design program in the School of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin, about psychological perspectives on color. The article said this, in part:

The experimental evidence to support these views is sparse, contradictory, and of limited usefulness in predicting the effect of color in the interior environment.

In that 2005 article, Professor Kwallek also wrote: “The impact of color on a given individual’s mood may not be relevant in maximizing performance.”  Nevertheless, on November 6, 2014, the Huffington Post published an article seeming to contradict that notion. Citing a study by a psychology professor at the University of Rochester, the article said:

Exposure to the color red lead [sic] to distraction, worry and a reduced ability to focus on mental tasks.

As if those mixed signals weren’t confusing enough, Fast Company published an article on April 7, 2015.  It also contradicts Professor Kwallek’s conclusion from 10 years earlier:

Three groups of people [were given] clerical tasks to complete in three different rooms. Each painted a different color: red, white, and aqua. High-screeners had no difficulty working in the red room. Low-screeners tended to be distracted by the color. Both groups, however, made more errors when they worked in the white room.

Let it Be

We will give the last word to yet another article, this one from April 13 of this year in Work Design Magazine. It seems to get everything just about right. Open-minded, well-balanced, and fully allowing for all of the variables that need to be considered in creating workspaces.

Certain colors can positively contribute to happiness, productivity, and even physical health in a workplace. However, we cannot rely solely on a coat of paint to reach these objectives alone. It is the combination of color, lighting, and other environmental features that can make a space the most supportive for employees. [It] involves finding the right balance between customizing the space with unique company attributes, and ensuring it is a comfortable and enjoyable place for people to work effectively.

Paul McCartney may not have been talking about workspaces and color, but he definitely dispensed the right advice.

Image by geralt, courtesy of

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