Karen Haller on Colour Psychology

Author and leading international authority in the field of Applied Colour & Design Psychology, Karen Haller consults, trains and heads colour campaigns for prestigious global brands such as Dove, Dulux, Samsung, Logitech, Fiat, BASF, Marks & Spencer, Nissan and Ascot Races.

How does colour affect people?

Colour affects our every waking moment. Yet most of us are only around 20 per cent conscious of why we make certain colour choices or decisions. That’s because they mostly occur at the subconscious level. Seeing colour starts as a physical experience, but when the information we see travels to our brain’s hypothalamus – which governs our metabolism, sleeping patterns, behaviours and appetite – it triggers an emotional response. It is these responses that inform the study of Applied Colour & Design Psychology which examines how different colours influence our thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

Are there universal reactions and responses to colour?

There is research to suggest there are common reactions and responses to colours and combinations of colours in nature. For example, black and yellow or black and red we instinctively know is a danger or warning sign. Then there are the learnt associations which are based on culture. Islamic countries revere green as the colour of Islam. In China red is associated with prosperity and good fortune. Fashion and design trends also influence our choices because we are constantly exposed to them through advertising, social media and the internet . Our colour choices are also influenced by our personal associations, such as a favourite holiday, sporting team or school uniform.

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Do certain colours cause us to respond in specific ways?

Every colour triggers emotional responses which can have a positive or adverse effect. Added to this we will find a colour is stimulating or soothing depending on its chromatic intensity. If it is a deeply saturated colour, it is likely to be stimulating, and, if it has low saturation, it is likely to be soothing. For example, blue is the colour that relates to the mind. A darker, intensely saturated blues promote focus and concentration, while light blues are likely to soothe and calm the mind. Equally, soft greens are relaxing while vibrant lime green is stimulating. Designers can use this knowledge to help create the desired feelings and behaviours in their interiors to create positive outcomes.

How do you select colours for interior designs?

Colour is a powerful opportunity to design spaces that make a real difference – from helping people sleep or reducing stress to motivating productivity. Start by focusing on the positive behaviours your client is looking to achieve. For example, a hospital reception area needs to provide reassurance, where people feel safe and at ease.

A colour to consider within the palette would be a soft green as it the colour of balance and harmony between mind, body and emotional self. It reassures us on a very primitive level and is very restful for humans because it falls in the middle of the colour spectrum and requires little to no adjustment to see.

Yellow reminds us of sunshine and fills us with optimism, positivity and self-confidence. If bright yellows are too stimulating for the context, consider ‘mustard’, ‘saffron’ or softer yellow tones.

Red stimulates us physically. It’s the colour equivalent of a double shot of espresso. If you find strong reds too stimulating, try lighter tones like ‘watermelon’ and soft reds which we know as pink.

If you want a calm space, white gives a space a feeling of peace and quiet and can help clear a cluttered mind. Blues are good for spaces where you want people to be able to reflect, focus and think.

“The more we love colour,
the more that we can express who we truly are.”

Karen Haller - Author and Applied Colour & Design Psychology Expertr

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