Color and productivity

Last week I was sitting in a 'finish concepts' meeting with a group of architects and designers looking at floor tiles, color swatches for wall coverings, and so on. There were five concepts presented. Each one with an accompanying photo of something from nature – flower, rock, etc – than inspired the concept.

This was all interesting to me as I haven't been in one of those types of meetings before, and it was fascinating to see the way the participants handled the samples, discussed the pros and cons, and went into all kinds of details like how would you join carpeting and tile in a 'designed' way?

What they didn't talk about was what effect the color and finish combinations might have on worker productivity. I was pretty sure I've read articles on that topic and surely in designing office space (as we were) worker productivity and motivation should be part of that discussion.

I ventured a question on the topic and was not shot down instantly. In fact one person remembered an article he'd read in graduate school written by someone in the 1950s. I think I've tracked this down to be by Robert Barclay Fetter, How color can increase your productivity (Business information bulletin). School of Business, Indiana University, 1950. The normally helpful Amazon could not give me more than that merely stating that it was 'out of print – limited availability'. So if anyone has a copy I'd be interested in seeing it as further searches got me nowhere on this.

However, I did come across some interesting info. One that particularly intrigued me was an article called Effect of Light Intensity and Color on Worker Productivity and Parasite Detection Efficiency During Candling of Cod Fillets, I have no idea what "candling of cod fillets" is and the abstract was not enlightening, telling me that:

"The effects of light intensity and color on worker productivity and parasite detection efficiency during candling of cod fillets were studied. Light intensity and color had pronounced effects on worker productivity. Productivity was improved by increasing the intensity of white light. Altering the lighting conditions during candle did not change parasite detection efficiency. "

More usefully, what I did discover was that Nancy Kwallek at the University of Texas at Austin is somewhat of an authority on the topic of the impact of color on worker performance. One of her articles Effect of color schemes and environmental sensitivity on job satisfaction and perceived performance
is summarized as follows:

Effects of interior office color and individual stimulus screening ability, i.e., instinctive perceptual filtering of irrelevant stimuli, on perceived performance and job satisfaction were examined on various outcome measures over a 4-day work week in a laboratory setting. Workers performed specific tasks and worked regular hours for 4 consecutive days in the same office. They were separated into three groups according to their ability to ignore irrelevant stimuli in the interior space. Those in the white and predominantly blue-green offices reported higher perceived job performance and satisfaction than those in the predominantly red office regardless of stimulus screening ability. Workers with high to moderate stimulus screening ability indicated greater perceived performance and job satisfaction than did workers with low stimulus screening ability. Results for color schemes are discussed in terms of preference and social expectations."

Another of hers Work week productivity, visual complexity, and individual environmental sensitivity in three offices of different color interiors notes that "The findings suggested that the influences of interior colors on worker productivity were dependent upon individuals' stimulus screening ability and time of exposure to interior colors."

There are a couple more articles of hers and others on a website called Informe Design and another which I couldn't find on their website but which is in their journal. The article is called Color in Office Environments and is available to download this study's findings " suggest that that color scheme alone may impact mood. Surprisingly, though, mood and productivity were not related to each other, suggesting that the impact of colors and stimulus screening on both mood and productivity are independent. No link was found between worker mood and worker performance. Positive mood characteristics did not lead to higher productivity."

A less academic article Grand Designs boldly states that " 81% f of workers claim to be more productive in a more colourful environment". While another article printed in the The Star Phoenix (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), July 20, 2002 Saturday Final Edition, written by Stephanie Whittaker, quotes Linda Miller a color and design consultant as saying "colour is often an afterthought in many environments. But it's critical to offices with computers because people have to stare at their screens for so long. The human eye isn't designed for that. It's meant for distance viewing as well. So people end up with tired eye muscles. Using colour in a workplace can relieve eye fatigue, Colour can energize workers, relieve boredom or cause anxiety or depression."

Ross Wigham in Personnel Today quotes Justin Palmer (of the now dissolved Principio Facilities Management company) as saying:

"Colour is an important part of our lives and influences our behaviour and mood. Despite widespread use of colour to enhance the home environment, most employers completely lack imagination when it comes to workspace."

Your views on the topic of color and workplace productivity welcome.