Feature

Why Color Matters

Two Projects Demonstrate the Importance of Color in Design

By Maya Henry, COLUMNS Editor Posted on November 15, 2018

Photo by Massery Photography, courtesy of Pittsburgh International Airport

Color trends may come and go, but the psychology of color is long-standing and universal.  Reds can stir up anger and passion while blues and greens are calming.  Designers who can blend these basic theories with contemporary color trends are more likely to create spaces that resonate with actual users.  People might not know why they feel better in a space, but chances are it has a lot to do with the colors the designer has chosen.

Incorporating ideas of biophilia, our inherent connection to the environment, is becoming increasingly popular as new technologies allow for shapes and materials to more closely mimic nature.  Users are demanding natural building materials, ample light, and fresh air that combines to create a sense of well-being and happiness.  (Read more about the Evolution of Wellness Design in this Columns article by John Ryan, AIA of DesignGroup.

Biophilic Color Trends. Image courtesy PPG.

Another trend that impacts color is designing for millennials. Whether it is in multi-unit housing or workspaces, millennials are looking for comfort and they want to have flexible live-work environments where they can go anywhere in the space and relax.  They are a population who do not want to feel their environment limits their creativity, and do want to be stimulated by the colors around them.

Living in the digital era also affects color because users are looking for less sterile environments, but also environments that change and keep their perception shifting.  Patterning and lighting, with lighting continuously changing the color of the space, have become popular choices.

According to a recent report from PPG, trends in residential housing, including multi-family, are seeing a notable shift away from the bold color blocking of the past 10 years in favor of safer neutrals.  Bold color is expressed through interior paint and furnishings or outdoor accent.

Trends in residential housing, including multi-family, are seeing a notable shift away from the bold color blocking of the past 10 years in favor of safer neutrals. 

Dee Schlotter, Senior Color Marketing Manager at PPG Architectural Coatings / PPG says PPG considers a number of factors when forecasting color trends.

“We identify the colors that resonate with the users of that space.  For example, senior living facilities to prisons to health care to universities – all very unique in what colors are best for the customers using that space.  Demographics, lifestyle, societal influences, geographies, and materials are all filters we use to choose colors for segments to drive that connection and feeling in a space,” says Schlotter.

Despite trends, choosing color starts with what your end goals are. Noelle Weaver, a Senior Interior Designer at Michael Baker International, says that often what people say they want in a space and how they actually use the space often differs. “You have to use the anthropology of design.  You have to look at how people actually use the space by experience and observation.  When you observe users of the space what they do speaks more than what they say,” says Weaver.

When Weaver and the team of designers at Michael Baker were designing the French Creek Bachelor Enlisted Quarters at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, color choices were a major factor.  The team set out to infuse the design with colors that denoted honor and respect and were soothing to the inhabitants.

French Creek Bachelor Enlisted Quarters at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Image courtesy Michael Baker International.

The team set out to infuse the design with colors that denoted honor and respect and were soothing to the inhabitants.

This was accomplished through patterning in the floors, and color changes within the facility to keep the enlisted men from feeling closed in.  Colors such as oranges, light blues, and moss greens give the design a tropical, warm feel and give the inhabitants a feeling that they are “almost on vacation” and could detach themselves from what they did during the day in a soothing environment.

The furnishings and environment were selected to cater to people from all walks of life and nationalities and give them neutral spaces where they can connect.  The materials and colors connate fun, keep them out of their rooms, which are more subtle, so that they are not isolating themselves and they feel drawn to the common spaces.

“Having a fun and lively area with colorful attractive space is going to pull them out and bring them to interact,” says Weaver.

French Creek Bachelor Enlisted Quarters at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Image courtesy Michael Baker International.

Another Michael Baker project, at the Pittsburgh International Airport, demonstrates the impact color can have on interior environments.  Old signage was confusing and the signature “Rapture” red color that was originally chosen was not the correct choice anymore given what is known now about the psychology of color, says Weaver.  In their interior renovation, soothing colors such as blues and warm wood tones were added to previously red columns to add distinctive feelings to different areas of the airport.

Photo by Massery Photography, courtesy of Pittsburgh International Airport

The new color scheme of reds, blues, greens, and greys also serves as a subtle wayfinding system. Travelers understand they are on a difference concourse because of the coloration.

Photo by Massery Photography, courtesy of Pittsburgh International Airport

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