Colours affect how we feel and perform

The colours that surround us in our everyday lives have more than just aesthetic significance. They influence our experiences, behaviours and performance, and help us to navigate the physical environment. Working consciously with colours creates a basis for well-being, sense of feeling safe, creativity and efficiency.

The meaning of colour

Many psychologists have studied colours and the impact they have, and have found that colours are perceived differently and engender some form of response in the majority of people. Nevertheless, it’s been difficult to determine exactly what different colours make us feel since, to some extent, this also depends on culture, time and place. But even if opinions are divided as to how colours affect us, one thing everyone agrees on is that they have a significant impact, and that they often influence us more than we realise. We now know that human colour perception is located in the limbic system, the part of our brain that manages functions such as emotional responses and subconscious thoughts. This in itself suggests a strong link between our perception of colour and our ability to process emotions, learn new things and increase our motivation. That’s why it’s important to consider which activities will be carried out in an interior space environment, so that you choose the right colour to encourage these activities. This increases the possibility of creating or changing behaviour.

Colour is one of many ergonomic factors that need to interact in a space in order to promote well-being, creativity and productivity. Alongside the choice of layout, furniture, acoustics, lighting and ventilation, as well as organisational and social factors, it creates the holistic experience of a working environment.  Read more about holistic ergonomics.

Nature’s colours shows the way to timelessness and sustainability

Selecting what’s trendy and appealing right now can be counterproductive. The choice of colours depends on what you’ll be doing, what you want to achieve and on the people spending time in the space. Timeless colours chosen on the basis of context ultimately increase the value of your investment. The right choice of colour in the right place also reduces wear and tear, and the need for maintenance. There are many indications that colours close to nature’s own colour palette, such as green and earthy hues, have a special effect on people’s ability to recuperate and are thus suitable for most working environments. Earthy and muted tone-on-tone colours not only create a sense of tranquillity but are also easy to mix and match with each other, while maintaining the look of consistency and harmony. This makes it easy to combine furniture from different parts of the company’s premises as needs arise, creating an interior space that’s flexible and sustainable over a long period of time.

5 tips when choosing colour


Consider the purpose of the space when choosing colour, not personal taste or popular trends.


Earthy and muted tone-on-tone colours provide a holistic look of consistency and harmony, and also make it easy to rearrange groups of furniture as necessary.


Use colour to delineate different types of zones and make navigation easier.


Think about the effect of contrast to enhance a function or desired behaviour.


Avoid combining several different bold colours or patterns on large surfaces. They can cause negative distractions.

Different colours influence us in different ways

Colours affect everything from mood to neurophysiological reactions. Some colours can stimulate conversation and bursts of energy or activity, while other colours encourage serenity, silence or reflection. Everyone is affected differently by colours, and tastes differ depending on who you ask. In other words, it’s very important to know who will be spending time in the spaces and which activities they will be carrying out before choosing colours.
A colour is more than just a colour. It’s important to bear in mind that it can be cold or warm and come in a variety of different shades. In other words, green is not only pleasant, it can be something completely different depending on the interplay between colour, tone, light, cold, warmth and contrast. Even slight differences can alter the perception of a room and its proportions. What looks a certain way on a flat surface can make a completely different impression when applied in a room. The impression can also be altered depending on daylight and lighting. Furthermore, colours affect each other when viewed together, which can change perceptions of the height, width, depth, balance and orientation of the room.
Light and warmth have a profound effect on the way that people perceive colours. You can change the colour and holistic impression of a room considerably simply by altering the lighting. The time of day is also crucial for how we see a colour. A blue colour on a cold, cloudy winter’s day can be perceived as a completely different shade of blue when the sun hits the colour and warms up the room. Light colours have the advantage of absorbing light from the outside, which makes us more alert during the day. Darker colours, on the other hand, block the light, so should be used wisely. Studies have shown that cold colours tend to be valued more negatively and warm colours more positively. Yet cold, cool colours reduce blood pressure and aid concentration.

Colour guide

The human eye can distinguish about 10 million different shades of colour. So how do you decide which colours to use in your spaces? In our colour guide below, we offer you some general guidelines on a selection of colours and how they affect people.

Green, blue and beige for concentration

Generally speaking, cool colours e.g. light shades of green, blue and beige are preferable in spaces where people will be working for long hours with high concentration. Light colours absorb more light from the outside, which makes us more alert during the day. Green shades also symbolise nature, and are naturally stress-relieving and refreshing.

Yellow shades stimulate creativity

Yellow is the universal sun symbol which we tend to associate with optimism and joy. It captures our attention and is said to improve our memory and thought processes. Yellow hues are energising and encourage people to talk, so feel free to use them in spaces to stimulate creativity. Yellow is also good for grabbing attention and using as an accent colour. But it’s best to avoid strong yellows, which can be visually abrasive and cause eyestrain.

Blue for peace of mind

Blue tones signal peace and quiet. They help us to relax and have a soothing effect. Studies have shown that our breathing slows and we blink less frequently in blue spaces. Blue also inspires confidence and peace of mind. Use blue shades where you want to create a feeling of peace and harmony.

Red triggers our emotions in different ways

Red quickly grabs our attention, acts as a stimulant and makes our hearts beat faster. However, red tones should be used sparingly, as they may also provoke anger and panic. This may result in increased blood pressure and release of the stress hormone cortisol. On the other hand, reds and yellows may be suitable in spaces where you want to stimulate activity and energise people. It’s also a good idea to use orange or dullmuted red in canteens, as evidence suggests that these colours stimulate our sense of taste. Warm, soft reds have also been shown to have a calming effect on people with dementia.

Colour versus colourfulness

Colour choice plays a central role when designing an interior space, but it’s not quite as simple as choosing the right colour. You also need to take the concept of colourfulness into consideration. Simply explained, colours are green or blue and colourfulness is the intensity of that green or blue. Colourfulness indicates how strong or intense the colour is. The term is mainly used within the NCS (Natural Color System®) scale and is designated with c in the colour code on a 100-degree scale. Two colours may have the same colourfulness, but may vary in blackness and whiteness. The less colourfulness, the more the colour in question tends towards the grey scale. A yellow colour with a colourfulness of 99 is a strong yellow, while a yellow colour with colourfulness of 5 will have a greyish look. Closely related colours can therefore be perceived in completely different ways depending on their colourfulness. Studies show that more vibrant colours arouse stronger feelings – both negative and positive.

Contrasts in everyday life

The choice of colour thus affects how people act in different situations and spaces. It all depends on who will be spending time in your space, which activities they will be performing, and what you would like people to do and feel. Colours are a way of guiding people in a certain direction or influencing their behaviour. One example is that different focus zones or home bases can be delineated by working with a uniform colour scheme. This makes it easier to find and everyone knows what goes on in that particular zone. Carefully considered colour choices can enhance peace of mind, clarity and navigation in a space.

Another important factor for orientation in a space is the presence of contrasts. Contrasts can be used to highlight or conceal surfaces. An armrest bracket may have a contrasting colour to indicate that it has an important function. Another example is that a door can be painted in the same colour as the wall to conceal it and signal that this door should not be used. Or vice versa – a door in a contrasting colour can clearly signal that ‘you should enter here’. A rug in a contrasting colour can also delineate a zone and invite you to carry out a certain type of activity.

Colour choices in different spaces


Choice of colours in offices

  • Use colour to delineate different focus zones and make navigating the rooms easier.
  • An earthy colour scheme makes it easy to rearrange the furniture in the rooms without spoiling the harmony of theharmonious overall look.
  • Bear in mind that dark colours block light, so compensate with the appropriate lighting.
  • Keep larger surfaces in calm, monochrome colours to reduce distractions.
  • Be aware that bright, shiny surfaces reflecting light can be disturbing to the eye.


Choice of colours in learning spaces

  • Avoid patterns, bold colours and too many different colours in the same room to minimise distractions.
  • Mark home bases and zones using colour to enhance peace of mind and improve navigation.
  • Consciously plan which colours are most suitable for which areas – keep in mind that light shades are more dirt-sensitive than dark ones.
  • Work with contrasts to encourage different behaviours, for example, a rug in a contrasting colour easily creates an inviting zone.
  • Add colour to separate, smaller details in the interior design, such as handles on a storage unit, instead of large areas. This makes the interior more sustainable and flexible in the long term, and minimises visual impressions.


Choice of colours in healthcare spaces

  • Avoid pastel colours, as older eyes are unable to perceive colours with the same intensity as younger eyes.
  • Work deliberately with contrasts in the colour scheme to facilitate orientation in spaces and between furniture.
  • Avoid patterns, which people with dementia may perceive as a negative distraction, e.g. as tiny insects swarming around.
  • An attractively coloured item of furniture that stands out from the background is easier to see and thus used more. In contrast, painting a door in the same colour as the wall helps to conceal it and signals ‘you should not go in here’.
  • Avoid rugs in dark colours against light flooring, since they may be perceived as deep holes by people with dementia.

Explore holistic ergonomics

“Kinnarps Colour Studio is our material range for offices, schools and care environments with a focus on sustainability, quality and harmony. It offers attractive materials that are carefully tried out and tested to fit and hold for different types of environments. Our goal is to offer a range that makes it easy to find the expression and functionality you are looking for. Wood, metal, plastic and textiles, colour tones and patterns that are easy to match with each other and other furnishings."

Christina Wiklund, Colour, Material and Finish Manager, Kinnarps AB

Ask Kinnarps about colour

Kinnarps’ holistic perspective on the significance of colours in ergonomics is based on science, such as colour theory and colour psychology, as well as on our many decades of experience dating back to the 1940s. This provides peace of mind and is an asset for those of you working in offices, schools or healthcare facilities. We know that ergonomics will be greatly enhanced if you place great emphasis on colour and also look at colour as an equally important element as the actual interior design. With the help of the latest research and our ergonomics expertise, you can be sure that there’s no guesswork involved in Kinnarps’ recommendations, advice or product suggestions relating to colour. We look at the big picture and the details of ergonomics.

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