In the important work of designing environments, color is a vital and
defining catalyst and one that speaks to much more than one particular
space. Before the internet and our modern 24-hour information cycle, some
color theorists gauged the state of the economy and consumer confidence
by watching which red tones were trending. A brighter blue-based red (more
positive and upbeat) would emerge as the economic outlook looked good
and consumers were confident. However, if people were worried and not
inclined to spend as much, a brown-based, earthy red would become popular
because it felt safer and, particularly in home design, people believed they
could live with it for longer.
Today, these general guidelines still ring true and speak volumes to the
psychology behind the colors we choose for everything from fashion to
interiors to automobiles and more. “When the financial crisis hit in 2008,
colors were a little somber. I do think that now cycles move faster because
there’s so much more information [coming at us],” explains Sue Wadden,
director of color marketing at Sherwin-Williams. Fashion always gets a lot
of attention, but it’s no longer the absolute leader in color forecasting with
everyone else in the design world following suit. Travel and film also inspire
color palettes, and forecasters are particularly interested in cutting-edge
technologies and finishes that incorporate new colors.
Wadden looks to the automotive industry as an economic barometer.
She notes that when brighter, bolder colors—including red, certainly, but
also impactful colors like yellow or citrus green—emerge in auto colors,
you can tell the economy is doing well; whereas, when black, grays, and
deep reds—those merlot and yellow-based tones that are a little more
conservative—emerge, people are becoming worried.
Everybody can relate to the importance of color around them,
whether they’re overtly aware of it or not, according to Leatrice
Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute and
director of Eiseman Center for Color Information and Training.
“Some people are so tuned in to color because they’ve been
raised in a very colorful atmosphere or they have a natural talent
for it. But, even those who don’t have that particular talent know
what it feels like when you walk into a space that makes you
feel good, that lifts your spirits, or depresses you,” she states.
Eiseman often is asked, “What color can I paint the office
to increase productivity?” Unfortunately, no magic bullet set
of colors will work in any given setting. Eiseman recalls that,
in the days before computers, people would call Pantone
and say, “We get that it’s important to match colors, but tell
us about how color makes you feel. How can we help sell
our widgets based on the color that they’re made?” As time
went on, the Pantone Color Institute was established because
Pantone realized there was much more to color than the
technical aspects of color matching.
“We know the psychology of color is so powerful in the home
and equally important in the workplace where some people
spend eight to 10 hours a day,” says Eiseman. “In a healthcare
facility, of course, color is also a very important consideration
because it can depress or enhance the mood of people within
that setting.” Designers almost intuitively gravitate toward
calm colors that will create a relaxed setting in healthcare
projects, but, at the same time, it should not be so soothing
that it crosses over to depressing. “Colors in healthcare
shouldn’t be too muted and they should give you the feeling
of a little bit of connection to [nature] outside,” explains Eiseman,
who does not use the word “rules” when talking about color.
“I prefer the word ‘guidelines.’ We decide on the mood we
are going to create and then color helps us create the mood.”
Appealing to Emotion
Using colors to create workspaces that inspire creativity,
collaboration, and productivity is a key business concern,
but color plays a much wider role in achieving success.
A company’s brand image will connect with its consumer
when colors are selected that emotionally engage their
market. “Products utilizing colors that speak to the
consumer’s mood, persona, and culture will increase
sales,” notes Sandra Sampson, vice president of PR
and communications and executive board member at
Color Marketing Group.
Color forecasting mood boards, like this one from CMG, are a collection of images,
words, art, and more that evoke emotion and support an emerging color’s story.
(Image: Color Marketing Group)
Color, in Theory — By Diana Mosher