Friday, February 5, 2010

Color In The Office Environment

Do office workers benefit from the use of color in their environments?

Image: Red Envelope Office_David Wakely

If you ask the workers you will typically get a positive response. If you ask facilities management you may get a negative answer. If you ask the architects and designers you will get a mixed answer.

Why is this?

Every individual has subjective color likes and dislikes. If the office is designed using a workers preferred colors they tend to like their environment. Conversely if they hate a certain color and must work surrounded by it everyday, you know they will find it irritating.

Image: The Art Of Color_Johanes Itten

From a facilities management perspective, the typical objection to color is the extra work it takes to maintain an office with multiple hues. The time required to clean paintbrushes and paint buckets when several colors are involved translate to department costs.

Architects and designers may frown upon applied colors and believe that color should come from the building materials themselves.

I do not disagree at all with this belief. However, budget driven projects will use special materials in public spaces like the Lobby, Conference and Board Rooms. The open office may not have the budget for special materials.

Image: HP Lobby_Sharon Reisdorf

This is where paint and color can come in to make the work place more appealing.

Is there science behind the application of color to office environments?

Frank Mahnke in his book Color Environment and Human Response outlines a solid body of research supporting the value of color. Citing psycho-physiological, neuro physiological, psychosomatic and visual ergonomic factors, color and light can greatly improve a person’s impression of their workplace. We respond to color in a complex way that operates beyond personal preference. Lack of stimulation whether visual or psychological is associated with boredom, and fatigue.

Image: Cafeteria_David Wakely

By consciously varying the light dark contrasts and using a well rounded palette you can imitate the range of colors one would experience in nature. You also increase the chances of creating a pleasing environment that may appeal of a broad group of end users.

There is no specific formula of colors for an office that can be prescribed. Each office needs to be carefully evaluated to determine its optimal palette. There is ample research in cross-disciplinary fields to support the fact that color can play an important role in the office environment.

Color, Environment & Human Response
Frank H. Mahnke

Color Planning for Interiors

Margaret Portillo


  1. it's so sad that so many workplaces neglect to consider the psychological effect that an environment will have on the people working there. I've been into office spaces that are so depressing, I can't imagine spending 8 hrs/day 5 days/week within those confines. But more often than not, it seems to be almost an afterthought. Lobbies, board rooms, etc get attention, but not the actual office spaces.

  2. Color in the workplace is such an overlooked environmental component. My husband's fortunate enough to work in a large office environment where there are thoughtful, appropriate, interesting colors applied in different work areas( CEO is passionate about Hawaii and many of the palates reflect this in the conference rooms and employee break areas. Even stronger bursts of color are used in traffic areas where employees are passing through. My husband really appreciated the use of color after working in a bland, white/beige start up company across town for 5 years!

  3. This is a great post - thanks! I used to work in a very sad Silicon Valley office environment doing software sales. When people ask me how and why I chose a career in design, I tell them I was tired of working in a grey cubicle! It just zapped the life out of me. Now my home office is painted bold turquoise and I love it!
    FYI, not sure if you've seen this project, but I just did a recent post on an office environment that had an interesting approach to color design...

  4. Nice post!

    I am looking for a more comprehensive view on Effects Of Colors On Human Behavior In Organizations and workplace!!!