colour in the office / by Nigel Tresise

One of the highlights of this year’s Clerkenwell Design Week for the team was a lively seminar/audience Q&A on ‘Colour in the Office’ by Gary Wheeler of WHEELERKÄNIK.

Gary talked about how the use of colour by designers and architects is taught to start with, but quickly becomes inherent – a mix of intuition; the client’s brand needs or aesthetics; what we’re taught by the outside world (particularly via branding and advertising) and our own project experience.

Brands use colour to signal and delineate and Gary brought up the example of Selfridges, who have no yellow in the store design at all. Everyone’s association comes from the store identity – and those fabulous yellow carrier bags.

Colour use is taught initially but quickly becomes instinctive

Colour use is taught initially but quickly becomes instinctive

Gary also talked about how blue is used by 90% of all banks to suggest trust and stability, making that a perfect norm to rebel against, as Santander did with its red branding, in order to stand out from the crowd. One audience member noted that since London’s ‘Boris Bikes’ had changed from being sponsored by Barclays to Santander, however, she found the sight of the red-branded bikes en masse somehow more dangerous-looking and aggressive.

Colour definitions and adjacencies came next and how colour can be monochromatic, complementary, analogous, triadic or split-complementary - and the importance of climate and light in terms of how colour can change and interact with its surroundings. The location of colour can also change its effect; a hot colour on a feature wall is quite different to on a ceiling, when it could take on a heavy, oppressive feel.

The location of colour is also important and can influence how it is perceived

The location of colour is also important and can influence how it is perceived

We’re now in an era where the use of warm colour is dominant in office schemes and we discussed why that might be, concluding that the vibrancy, urgency and even masculine aggression associated with a warm colour palette can be a typical reaction to times of economic recession and austerity.

The use of colour in healthcare centres and the prison system was a fascinating spin-off conversation. Apparently, someone having a crisis with violent overtones can be soothed by a 20-minute immersion in a lilac-pink environment, although longer than that is counter-productive. We shall have to bear that in mind!