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Workspace 31 Jul 2012

Colour for Commercial Spaces

Colour expert Kate Smith talks about the importance and use of colours in commercial spaces.

When specifying colours for any commercial project, designers must take into consideration practical issues such as space limitations, the amount and source of lighting, and the intended use of the space. To determine the right colours for a commercial space think about your client’s primary goals for the space. Are they looking to invigorate and excite those who work there? Is the focus on enhancing their brand by providing an experience for visitors? As a designer it is important to learn as much as possible about the client’s purpose, goal, and product or service offered before making any colour decisions. This will make it possible for you to specify appropriate colour combinations that will assist your client in motivating their work force, meeting their business goals, and meeting the needs of their customers.

Colours for the Office or Workspace 

The most common goals for choosing the appropriate colour for an office or workspace are to increase worker productivity, encourage creativity, or to improve employee morale. This can be a difficult task since individuals respond differently to colour, based on their own personal history, culture, and background.

Individual Responses to Colour

While not an exact science, studies have shown that the colour scheme of an office may positively impact productivity and employees’ attitude. However, when an individual’s personal reaction to that colour is taken into consideration, it is easier to determine whether the productivity of that specific employee will be affected positively or negatively. 

A surprising result of those same studies show that white, the most common colour for office walls and furniture, results in less productivity from most workers. There are many thoughts as to why this is the case. It may be due to the starkness of the white walls, or the lack of contrast in a monochromatic colour scheme. 

The obvious conclusion you can draw from these studies is that each individual responds differently to colour and this makes the job of finding the ‘perfect’ colour for a specific office setting very complex. 

Colour Red in Offices: For example, it is a common belief that the colour red is energising and stimulating, but in an office environment, red walls may overwhelm some workers while stimulating others. In this example, employees who find red walls overwhelming may not work to their full potential, while the employees energised by the colour red may or may not improve their productivity.

Projecting an Image

The image your client wishes to project to their clientele is important when choosing a colour scheme. For example, a professional group of attorneys may wish to choose colours that project trust, stability, and reliability, while at the same time, putting their clients at ease. A high energy marketing firm that is looking to attract young clients may wish to use unusual colour combinations that reflect their creativity. 

Keep in mind that if your client’s corporate identity or brand is tied to a well known, recognizable colour scheme, the rules of colour psychology should be overlooked  and those colours should be incorporated  into their office design.

Source of Light

It is imperative that, as the designer, you are also aware of the primary source of light in the office and choose colours accordingly. Colours react differently under fluorescent, halogen, and natural light. 

Halogen Lighting 

Halogen lighting produces an intense white light that makes it an excellent choice for task-lighting. However, while energy efficient, they are more expensive than other forms of lighting and emit a great deal of heat that can be uncomfortable and possibly dangerous in a commercial setting. 

Fluorescent Lighting 

Fluorescent lighting produces a very white light in a bulb that is inexpensive and energy efficient. This source of lighting is commonly used in commercial environments, but can be difficult to dispose of once the bulbs have burned out due to the high mercury count . 

Natural Lighting 

Ideally, some natural light is present in most areas of a commercial setting including private work areas as well as public spaces.

Size of the Workspace

In order to determine the best colour scheme for your client, you as a designer will need to take into consideration the size of the space. Office space can consist of one large room that is filled with desks and cubicles or the space may have several small interior offices that open into a common area. 

In most work situations the least disruptive colour scheme consists of a main colour that is low chroma (toned down) and light in value, covering the majority of the visual area. The second largest expanses of colour would be mid-value and medium saturation. Trim and accents could be either high or low in both value and chroma. 

Office Colour Palette: For example, walls might be painted light green in a flat finish; small, individual cubicles could be painted in a medium blue; and a contrasting colour in a glossy finish could be applied to doors, mouldings and other trims.

Colours for Industrial Spaces 

Industrial spaces have unique requirements when it comes to specifying colour. When choosing interior paint and colour for walls, as well as for equipment and building materials that are located in the space, issues like environmental hazards, special storing requirements, flammability, and proper disposal must be taken into consideration.

Temperature Control

Another consideration is temperature regulation. In industrial spaces your client may be trying to reduce heating or cooling budgets while still maintaining employee comfort. This can sometimes be difficult to achieve but the colour scheme can help employees perceive a space as warmer or cooler than the actual temperature. To make the work area more comfortable for employees, choose a colour scheme that can alter a person’s perception of the temperature. 

Warm & Cool Colours in Industrial Settings: For example, studies have shown that a space painted light, clear blue feels several degrees cooler than the actual temperature, while yellow-orange on the walls makes a space feel warmer. When used wisely, colour may help employees feel more comfortable when working in a very warm or cool environment.

Minimize Wear and Tear

The interior office space, as well as furniture, machinery, and other equipment that is part of the warehouse or industrial workroom, is often subjected to extreme temperatures, abrasive materials, extreme wear and tear, and other harmful agents that can corrode or otherwise alter the appearance and functionality of these items. 

It may be necessary for you to choose products in the market that can help reduce deterioration of the structure, furniture, and equipment, and protect the space from permanent damage. This would include protective sealants, anti-corrosive paint, and specialised items such as enamel or porcelain coatings, just to name a few. 

It is up to the designer to work with the industrial client to determine what products will best meet their needs and to figure out how to work within the limited colour range of specialised products.

Contributor: President and chief color maven of Sensational Color, Kate Smith is an internationally renowned colour expert, sought out for her ability to guide businesses on how to use colour to gain recognition and generate revenue.

All images under Creative Commons license 
IMAGE Victortsu » flickr.com/photos/victortsu/6834213681/ 
IMAGE Seier + Seier » flickr.com/photos/seier/4758254767/