Tech Trends of 2016: Color as a Language
Natalie Engels in Consulting, San Francisco, San Jose, Tech Trends, Technology

Image © Gensler

Editor’s note: this blog is part of a series on 2016 tech trends.

Color plays an important role in our everyday lives. It carries a lot of meaning, different for each person or culture. In the workplace, where the majority of us spend most of our time, it’s important to know how our brains react to the colors that surround us and what they communicate. That way, when designing these space, we can use color appropriately and with clear intention.

Most people have associations to different colors and ascribe meaning base on their culture, feelings or experiences. Whether it’s a memory that is brought back to the surface or a social stigma attached to a color family, color affects the mind, mood and productivity. So when designing workplaces, it’s important to take into consideration the psychology behind color and the behaviors that we’re trying to reinforce.

It is estimated that the human eye can distinguish 10 million colors. The way we interpret all of those colors has a different meaning and effect for each person, with men and women tending to perceive color differently. Image © Gensler

With tech companies becoming more purposeful in the way they create experiences for employees – by crafting environments that create memories and a desire to return – companies realize the impact color can have on behavior. And in an overstimulated era of screens and devices, the appropriate use of color can offer much needed balance. Quiet or sophisticated colors can help focus, and a pop of color can add energy in collaborative zones.

A few years ago, we were designing tech offices using color equally across spaces instead of changing color based on work mode. Color, material and finish strategist (and amazing woman and philanthropist) Laura Guido-Clark began asking “Why?” Why would we use bright colors that indicate action or activity in an office or focus room where someone needs to concentrate? Shouldn’t we use color to inform work patterns in certain areas?

As Laura sees it, “Color is a powerful language, a simple change agent that can often express what words cannot. When we enter a space, approach a building, or are surrounded with beautiful color, it can satiate our desires, inspire us to dream and empower us to create the world as we wish to see it.” Over the last seven years, Laura and her company have been researching the meaning of color, and they’re on the verge of introducing a new tool to help navigate color. This tool will organize principals that will assign meaning, giving color a language.

New organization will give color a language to express emotion. Image © Gensler

We also know what an important role light plays on our perception of color. Remember “Dressgate,” the online argument over whether a dress was blue and black or white and gold? Light can help expose employees to colors that mimic our body’s natural rhythm. A lighting system that adjusts throughout the day to distort colors to imitate the natural cycle of sunlight can help our internal clocks stay in sync. For example, lighting could be used to cool colors in the morning for alertness, or they can warm colors in the evening to help people wind down their day. Optimizing the indoor environment for ideal light and color exposure can create a healthier workplace, resulting in a decrease in health issues such as depression and sleep problems, and help us gain mood and performance metrics from variations in light/color scenarios.

As the tech industry seeks refinement in their spaces to help create purpose, atmosphere and a deeper experience, design teams should be well-versed in the language of color, understanding how to use color to create a fresh atmosphere to match company culture.

Special thanks to Laura Guido-Clark.

Natalie Engels re-imagines the workplace experience. A Design Director and regional leader of Gensler’s Technology practice, Natalie teams with clients to improve their business by designing for the workforce of the future; helping to attract and keep the next generation of employees. Contact her at
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