Time and again our members tell us how important colour is to their projects and so we’ve dedicated this month to brightening up February with some fantastic colour insights from top industry experts. To kick off our colour series who better to start with than leading international authority in the field of applied colour psychology – Karen Haller.
Karen’s been researching and working with colour for over 20 years. She consults, trains and heads campaigns for prestigious global brands and works alongside product creators, architects, designers and those specialising in workplace performance to enhance the professional services they offer their clients. In 2015 Karen co-curated the 4-day talks programme for 100% Design examining the power of colour.
Over the years Karen has worked tirelessly to put colour psychology on the map and I recently caught up with her to find out why the science of colour is quickly becoming the must-know skill and how you can join her to create a colour revolution.
1. Karen, you’ve studied colour across the world, from Australia to the UK, but what was it that really drove your interest in and passion for colour?
It was when I was studying fashion design and millinery in my native Australia. I remember I was putting dark brown feathers on a teal felt hat and had one of those epiphany moments. Just seeing the impact of the colours together stopped me in my tracks and I thought, “It’s colour! That’s where I need to go!”
So I began a year-long course at the International School of Colour and Design, which was fantastic but for me only scratched the surface. I wanted to go deeper into how we respond to colour and whether in fact it could be used to enhance emotions in order to modify behaviour.
After quite a lot of searching I came across the highly researched, but seldom utilised area of Colour Psychology and I’ve been implementing this science both as a practitioner and a teacher.
2. The psychology of colour is a growing industry in the design world right now. Can you tell us a little more about the science behind it?
Sure. I’m thrilled that the interest in applied colour psychology is finally growing. I have to admit that there have been times when I’ve felt like the lone wolf trying to get the message out there that colour is a powerful, scientifically proven tool to influence behaviour, feelings and well-being.
Like any area of psychology the science behind it is complex. It starts on a physiological level in that we process colour in the same area of our brain that also processes emotion. So when we see colour we react emotionally. Add to this the fact that we never experience colour in isolation, that there are always other colours, objects and shapes around that also affect our emotions and the possibilities for getting it right, or getting it wrong, multiply exponentially.
Often the science is over simplified into myths like “red makes you eat more” or “green is calming”. Clients read these things, or see them on makeover programmes, and expect designers to be able to apply these psychological principles that go far and beyond what is standard industry teaching. It does make it difficult for designers who want to offer this level of service and as so many have asked where they can learn this, I began offering an Advanced Colour Programme for Industry Professionals so that the science, and not the myths, become mainstream.
My goal is that together we can create a global colour revolution.
3. You have previously discussed the importance of colour in business branding. Does the use of colour really influence someone’s opinion of a business?
Definitely. Imagine if Dior had lime green as their brand colours. Would you still believe they were a high end, high quality, aspirational brand? Remember, we react to colour emotionally and we take in colour before the words or shapes that a brand might be using. So if your ideal clients don’t connect to your brand colours on an emotional level you can lose them before they have even decide to engage with your beautiful crafted words and images.
4. From the brand to a client; as a trained interior designer, do you think that value can be added to a project by understanding the colour psychology and perceptions of the client?
Absolutely. I see this as being the missing piece to design. Understanding the emotional connection the client wants to have with the space and translating that into not just the right colours, but the right tone of colours, combination of colours, proportion and placement is the science behind the art.
Imagine being able to work with a client to influence the types of behaviours they want to exhibit, and they want others to exhibit in their space. This goes way beyond creating a mood or a feeling because it moves into the realms of relationships with both the space and with others in that space.
Within a business interior, applying colour psychology can support an admin department to make fewer mistakes and a sales department to harness more sales. For the brand it can support customer loyalty leading to them buying more and more often.
Within a home it can create spaces that support open communication, harmony, physical health and, dare I say it, even passion.
Clients are more savvy than ever before and it’s only a matter of time before they are asking for this kind of control. Well, actually they’ve already started!
5. What about colour psychology vs. colour trends? Can they ever go hand in hand?
Interesting you should ask as I’ve just written a blog post on this. First things first, trends are a marketing strategy to increase sales.
What I look for when viewing colour trends is the link between the influencing factors and what is going on in society on an emotional level and the behaviours and reactions these trend colours will evoke.
The thing to remember is that while a business may wish to offer products that are ‘on trend’ these products still must be in psychological alignment with their brand. If not, the trend can work against them. It’s my job to help them navigate through this to ensure they are not being dictated by the trend but instead that it works for them. It’s the same with personal interiors and the desired behaviours a client wishes to encourage because it is often the longer-term experience they are looking for that can rarely be addressed by the transient nature of a trend.
6. Also, it could be argued that colour psychology is based upon colour symbolism. How do they differ and can colour psychology work with or even overcome preconceptions or associations with certain colours?
This is often the perception and something I address early on in my courses. Colour psychology and colour symbolism are two completely different concepts that require some time and attention to differentiate.
However, in a nutshell, colour symbolism, also known as Colour in Culture is based on deeply imbedded beliefs within a culture. Whereas colour psychology is the impact colour has on how you feel and behave, regardless of culture.
7. Finally, do you yourself have a favourite colour?
It’s always funny to be asked that because it’s a bit like a mother being asked to choose a favourite child! But, yes, I do have a favourite and it’s the tone of orange you see on a marigold flower – clear, bright, full of energy. It reminds me to not take life too seriously. It’s a playful, joyful colour – it just makes me smile.
And, yes, those are some of the positive psychology traits of orange!
As a published author and international speaker, Karen is regularly featured in national magazines, newspapers, radio and TV. She is also contributing author of the leading industry book Colour Design: Theories and Applications and offers personal mentoring in applied colour psychology for interior designers and colour professionals.
Karen is a trustee and committee member of the Colour Group of Great Britain and on the advisory board of the charity Color Cares.
Karen has written a complimentary e-book on The 10 Myths that Limit You using Colour Effectively. You can download it here.
She also runs a number of colour courses, from one day masterclasses, colour workshops to advanced colour mentoring programmes for design professionals. Find the courses here.
Finally, stay tuned. We will be hosting an Evening of Colour, bringing you a panel of leading colour experts to discuss the impact of colour and how to maximise it in interior spaces. More details to come.