Should we think about colour as more than simply trend-led, asks colour psychologist Karen Haller

Colour is one of those amazing phenomenons that’s fascinated man for centuries. So much so that specialist colour scientists, academics and researchers around the world come up with amazing new colour theories and findings all the time.

Interestingly, however, the new ways of working with colour discovered through ongoing research aren’t widely known within the design industries – it’s as if we’re stuck in a colour-wheel rut. But this is changing.

One of the biggest areas of research today beginning to make ripples in this area is around colour psychology – the study of the emotional connection we have to colour, and how it can be used to influence people’s feelings, mood and, most importantly, behaviours.

Reawakening to the possibilities of colour

I’ve been studying and researching colour for the past 20 years and it’s only been within the past two years that I’ve noticed a real surge in curiosity from design professionals who want to find out more about colour, and it in ways that have more positive impacts. Design professionals consistently ask me why their clients don’t like their colour choices – even if it’s the colours they originally asked for – or why are they find themselves using the same colours over and over in their designs. Or how to create a scheme were the colours aren’t jarring with each other. This tells me that traditional colour theory of complementary, triadic, analogous colour schemes (where colours opposite, next or evenly spaced around the colour wheel) are no longer enough.

100% Design_Central Bar by Studio Design_Image by Matt Goodwill

100% Design Central Auditorium designed by Studio Design UK ©Matthew Goodwill

What’s sparked this renewed interest in colour?

We’re experiencing, I believe, the rebound effect from a decade of designing and living in monotone white, grey or beige. Colour is becoming fashionable again, yet something so fundamental to our lives should be so much more than simply driven by trends. I sense these are some of reasons design professionals are looking for new ways and possibilities to use colour beyond mere decoration, or even as an afterthought. Colour creates an experience. It sparks emotion, changes a mood, and influences behaviours.

Every day we make choices about what to wear, eat, and buy, where we relax or how to spend our money. We are making these choices, unconsciously, based on colour – right down, even, to how you take your morning coffee.

This has, for me, always been a vital missing piece of the puzzle. Following the traditional route, I spent a year learning foundation colour theory, and during this time I yearned to understand how did this related to people. We all have emotional responses to colours, so how do we account for this when we’re usingcolour?

TouchBase by Glenn Howells Architects for charity Sense

TouchBase by Glenn Howells Architects for charity Sense

Going beyond aesthetics and trends

Seeing colour as multi-dimensional immediately opens up ways it can be used. It changes colour from purely an aesthetically pleasing addition to an ability to create a space that feels good to be in. The nub is that whatever colour combinations you use will influence behaviours, so why not pick colours that influence in a positive way? That way, colour can be used purposefully to create spaces that:

– Influence positive feeling and behaviours. Different colours can create different effects. For example, a client of mine – a florist – asked for colours in his boutique to give his customers an uplifting feeling as soon as they walked in the door, ultimately putting them into a buying frame of mind. Whilst the colours in the back office area enabled the staff to relax and decompress.

– Create a support environment. A great example was when I worked with a vet who specified colours in his hospital to help create a calm, supportive environment, knowing by calming the distressed pet owner, it helped calm their pet too.

– Change how we interact with ourselves and others. I’ve helped clients use colour to create their perfect home, whether that’s playful to encourage social communication, serene and elegant, quirky and eclectic, or to create drama.

Using colour psychology hand-in-hand with design enables you to consciously create colour schemes that will have a positive effect for the users of each space not just in the short term, but more importantly in the long term. Sometimes this is often forgotten because people are too focused on the ‘now’.

Understanding the psychology of colour opens up a whole new world of possibilities building upon the colour wheel. It gives you the knowledge to not just create a beautiful environment, but to create the perfect feeling, sensory experience.

Karen Haller is an internationally renowned advanced colour theory mentor and trainer. She will be speaking about the psychology of colour at 100% Design on Friday 25 September at 12.15 on the panel discussion What does the colour of your brand say? And on Saturday 26 September at 12.15, she will lead a talk about How to be more colour confident with your home design.

Karen Haller_Portrait 600

Karen Haller