Workspace design

The strange subliminal effects of colour

Do you find yourself struggling to focus on the task at hand?

Or getting more and more stressed through the working day until you feel like you are going to explode?

It appears that at least part of the solutions to these issues may lie in the colours we surround ourselves with in the workplace.

Most office environments today are in shades of white, off-white or grey. This may feel crisp and clean, but research suggests that it may not be conducive to optimum performance.

A recent University of Texas study by researcher Nancy Kwallek gave three groups of people clerical tasks to complete in three different rooms, each painted a different color: red, white, and aqua. The startling result was that each group of people made more errors working in the white room than in the aqua or red room.

“White doesn’t help us be productive, and most work environments are white, off-white, or gray,” says Kwallek.

So what to do…?

Further research show that the following guidelines can be used to decide which colours to use in which activity areas:


Is a calming colour and promotes clear thought. Use blues in general work areas to promote productivity and teamwork, and enhance concentration.


Is associated with nature and relaxation. Use greens in areas where reactive high pressure work is carried out, to reduce stress and burnout and help staff remain calm and efficient.


Grabs our attention and promotes excitement. Use reds in areas where physical work is carried out, as it raises the heart rate and improves performance. It can also improve short term concentration for project work.


Is associated with fun and happiness. Beware though, as too much yellow can make people anxious and stressed. The right shade of yellow can improve creativity and may be the best choice of decor color for those in creative fields like graphic design.

Whatever the colour, it’s the intensity that triggers the strongest response. To get the full effect, use bright colours as they have a stimulating effect. Subdued colours have a more soothing effect on both the mind and body.

Of course, it’s not always an option to change the colour of your whole office. Often the viable alternative is to opt for coloured accents in the form of furniture and accessories, so that different teams are surrounded by the colours that will best suit their type of work.

For the visual learners amongst us…check out this infographic from for a quick visual overview of how you can put colour to work for you!

Brian Foster

Brian is an experienced project sales professional, with the ability to provide simple solutions to the many complex problems that arise in the office furniture industry. His roles include product design, office layout design, quoting, and a range of other marketing/sales activities.

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