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Mon 4 Aug 2008 04:00 AM

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Colour me happy

Choosing the right colour scheme for your facility can improve productivity and, ultimately, your organisation’s bottom line.

Choosing the right colour scheme for your facility can improve productivity and, ultimately, your organisation’s bottom line.

The colour red is said to convey passion, strength, energy, excitement and love. It can also increase one's respiration, raise blood pressure and stimulate appetite.

Blue, on the other hand, is said to convey peace, harmony, unity and tranquillity. According to colour specialists blue can also stimulate employee productivity and-in some cultures-keep away evil spirits.

When energy prices rise, for example, warm, value-creating earth shades become popular. When the economy is flourishing, clear primary colours dominate. – Hossam Soliman.

Yellow is said to increase metabolism, improve concentration and make babies cry. Green symbolises intelligence and fertility and is often used in decorating for its calming effect. Orange conveys warmth; purple is an historical symbol of nobility.

Since 1894, psychologists have been studying the affects of colour on the human psyche and while their findings vary-largely due to culture and gender-the fact remains: people react to the colours that surround them. Whether it's emotional or physiological, a reaction occurs, and that reaction speaks volumes about mood, attitude and overall well-being.

"The colours that appeal to different people are those that have a deeper meaning to the individual from past experiences," explains Hossam Soliman, general sales manager for Sigma Paints. "I believe, people grow to learn the thoughts, events, situations, and feelings, associated with colours."

Enter facilities managers (FMs). If it's been shown that grey instils boredom, it's not a huge leap of faith to deduce that grey walls beget unproductive employees and disinterested clients.Moreover, psychologists have long since proven that yellow makes infants uncomfortable and thus more likely to cry, so it stands to reason that yellow walls in a hospital's paediatrics ward is just foolish. Given what we know, it is clear that colour is about more than just aesthetics.

"Colour is a deeply personal thing," says Amna Saqib, assistant manager and colour specialist for Dulux. "Many people think that colour is purely cosmetic. The truth is that colour is light. It's the source of life itself and there is nowhere that colour does not exist."

Healthy colour scheme

Colour and profitability seem to enjoy a relatively straightforward relationship.

Colour is the first thing you notice when you enter a home or a work place….The reason why people have been reluctant to use colour is because it evokes strong emotions because of its psychological characteristics. – Amna Saqib.

Colour schemes within facilities affect the psychology of inhabitants; psychology affects comfort; comfort affects productivity in employees, clients, visitors and staff.

While it is generally the remit of an interior designer to plan and execute colour schemes, it is important for FMs to recognise problematic combinations if they want to sidestep potential pitfalls.

The colour wheel is based on yellow, red, blue and green (YRBG), which are ultimately grouped together into colour families. Colours such as reds, oranges and browns belong to the same family and thus, are considered harmonious.

Contrasting colour combinations-or, those located opposite each other on the colour wheel-such as red/green or blue/yellow are said to oppose one another.

Very generally, yellows exude warmth, inspiration and vitality. They are often considered the happiest colours.Reds are the most dynamic and passionate colours and are known to stimulate activity, conversation and appetite. Blues usually bring comfort and serenity, while greens represent freshness, security and tranquillity.

Put simply, a colour scheme is a planned combination of colours for a given space. Though there are several colour schemes from which to choose, the most common include monochromatic, harmonious and contrasting.

"A monochromatic colour scheme is the simplest type and the easiest scheme to live with," explains Saqib. "In a monochromatic scheme, a single colour is used in different densities to create variation. This scheme is ideal for aggressive personalities."

A harmonious colour scheme is created by simply choosing colours next to each other on the colour wheel. "These schemes are tranquil and restful," explains Saqib, "and, again, best suited for aggressive personalities."

"Contrasting colour schemes are created by mixing opposing colours in different concentrations to achieve a balance of tones," adds Saqib. Contrasting schemes tend to be more dramatic, though also, more stimulating. It is said that contrasting colour schemes are best suited for docile personalities.

As the adage goes, different strokes for different folks

Colour psychologists have proven that some colours are uplifting, some are depressing. Some colours evoke emotions, others reflect social trends.

If employees are in fact a company's most expensive investment and clients are what ensure profitability, steps need to be taken to ensure comfort and well-being of both.From an FM perspective, it is crucial to consider the nature of one's industry, size of individual work spaces, availability/positioning of light sources and the preponderance or lack of ambience when specifying colour schemes.

According to Soliman, each project or facility has its own identity and thus, it is important to remember the purpose of the facility. For example, "A hospital performs different functions than a call centre, which performs different functions than a food chain facility," he explains.

While different colours project different moods, which elicit different behaviours, it's not as simple as matching one's industry with a colour. In fact, there seem to be separate trends even within the same facilities.

"In areas designated for waiting or resting at an airport, it is best to make sure the colours are restful and calming such as greens and blues," explains Nathalie Lorenzo, assistant interior brand manager, MENA, Jotun Paints.

"However, in restaurants at the airport on the other hand, you would have more reds to increase appetites and keep customers active enough to increase turnover."

Colourful cultures

It would seem that colour schemes may differ from industry to industry, and also, between departments within the same facility. If that is indeed the case, how can an FM expect to specify a responsible colour scheme within multicultural facilities?

The answer can be based broadly on cultural symbolism. "The trend that we have observed over the years is a distinct interest in yellow tones and special effect finishes amongst UAE nationals. Neutral tones are more popular amongst Europeans, whereas Arab & Asian expats prefer deeper tones," says Saqib.When considering colour for exterior applications, however, especially within the Middle East, the decision is about functionality and protection as well as aesthetics.

"In terms of infrastructure, there is a sense of unity in terms of choice of colour. White or beige is the standard preference for towers and buildings and residences," explains Soliman.

Considering the climate in the region, it seems that white or beige is the perfect choice, given the heat, moderate humidity, and dust in the atmosphere. These are the most resistant and least affected by the climate in the region," he adds.

Regardless of whether FMs specify colour schemes for interiors or exteriors, however, colour specialists agree that for multicultural facilities, choose wisely and whenever possible, use a colour consultant.

"It is important to have a basic knowledge about the culture and importance of colours within that culture," explains Saqib. "The best approach for multicultural workplace would be to offer colours that are globally accepted."

"Input from colour specialists is imperative," adds Soliman. "They are experienced in colour symbolism and trained to recognise the compatibility of colours in different environments and cultures."

Some common colour incongruities further illustrate the point. In most of the Western world, purple is vibrant colour that represents nobility or royalty.

In Thailand however, it is the colour worn by widows in mourning.White is symbolises purity in the West and is often worn by brides-to-be, but in some East Asian countries it is the colour worn to funerals. Red, given the context in which it's being used, can symbolise danger, the devil or love.

According to Lorenzo, Jotun colour specialists do conduct studies on colour trends within society but when it comes to a multicultural workplace, the approach should be more straightforward.

"Colours in the workplace", she says, "should be chosen depending on their effect as opposed to preferences. Colour ‘psychology' doesn't differ as such; after all, we're all humans."

If a colour specialist is consulted, those in the industry agree, it needs to be done early. In some cases, a colour specialist should be consulted during the design stage.

"After the architects have completed their drawings, we communicate with them and basically specify the colours then," says Lorenzo. "A colour specialist should get involved when the project is initiated by the client," agrees Soliman.

Take a chance

Changing colour schemes in the workplace can be a risky proposition. Most FMs follow the philosophy that white is neutral, white is easy, white is safe.

Large facilities often incorporate while walls because while FMs and interior designers understand that colour affects psychology, they don't generaly understand exactly how.White, as it happens, is the most readily available option.

"[Colour specialists] understand that applying colour on the wall can be quite intimidating. The colour of the clothes we wear can be changed according to our moods, but the colour of a wall is a long term thing," says Saqib.

"[However] it has been scientifically proven that pure white walls can have an adverse affect on eyesight."

For an organisation looking to make a change in its colour scheme, unless it wants to take a drastic step, experts recommend transitioning from white to neutral shades and hues.

"People who are sceptical about the usage of colour can start with using neutrals which are basically whites with a hint of a particular colour. The advantage of neutrals is that they work well with any layout," explains Saqib.

The other option for FMs sceptical of colour psychology or nervous about of making dramatic changes is to put the decision in the hands of experts.

Several of the region's large paint manufacturers and interior design offices employ colour consultants to help clients with decisions and colour centres to help create the perfect shade for homes or work spaces.

We try to interact with architects and consultants during the design stage," says Murtaza Challawala, marketing and business development manager, Al Gurg Leigh.

"It is not happening everywhere," he continues, "but certain organisations are doing it right. We work quite closely with Cansult Maunsell, Halfords, Atkins and Halcrow, among others, and many of them do take our advice on using the right colours in the right places."

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