Paint Chips

Colour as a Communicator

It is the responsibility of the interior designer, colour specifier, or architect choosing colour to have the knowledge of a colour’s psychological meaning and effect when selecting colour.  Colour choices along with the lighting, material finishes, textures, furnishings, fixtures, and fittings- are all communicators in an architectural space.


This emotional response, whether positive or negative, is the direct result of correct or incorrect colour selection. Colour is the first sensory response we receive when viewing an object. It catches our attention, whether it’s on our screens, in print, in fashion, on our fingernails, or the room we enter. This sensory response is the first step in communicating to our brain how we feel about something.

Let’s zone in on colour communication for interiors and exteriors of buildings.  If a colour is to communicate “this is a relaxing or no stress zone”, then obviously a calmer colour must support it.  Alternatively, if the message “let’s get revved up and moving”, then a energetic colour choice will be entirely different.

 Colour can communicate, is this space…

  • serious or friendly?
  • fresh or tired?
  • expensive or cheap?
  • exciting or boring?
  • modern or classic?
  • heavy or light?
  • masculine or feminine?
  • loud or quiet?
  • the list can go on; you get it…

Most very simple colour psychology tools or diagrams only look at emotional outcomes for basic or primary hues- red, yellow, blue, green, orange, purple, black, and white.  They do not take into consideration tints, tones, shades, and most importantly- one’s culture and demographics.  So knowing red is energizing is a good thing, but what about a toned down or earthy red?  This can be a comforting, soothing colour, depending on where it falls on the color wheel.  More important, what if there is a different cultural meaning for red from one person to another? Has a person’s age or sex been considered?  This is where having a trained colour expert is so important.  

Benjamin Moore 2001-10 Ruby Red will get the blood flowing
Benjamin Moore 2084-20 Maple Leaf Red can be a calming red

The same example can be given for blue.  We typically associate that blue in room will communicate a restful, calming, and serene space.  Most often it does, but if the shade, tint, or tone of that blue is not right the message will be entirely different.  A stronger and brighter blue will hype things up and can often be over stimulating- so again where that blue falls on the colour wheel is vital. Universally blue is the most accepted colour, so culture may not be a huge factor, but demographics might be in deciding which blue is best.

Benjamin Moore HC 148 is a calmer more serene blue
Benjamin Moore 2065-30 could be an overstimulating blue

Colour communication mistakes can happen, if a person is trying to create a space with with a particular emotional outcome yet doesn’t doesn’t have the knowledge or understanding on how to execute it. They may get inspiration for a restful and serene room from a vivid blue sky and ocean on a wonderful landscape. The tricky part comes when trying to translate those colours directly into an architectural space to get that same emotional outcome.

The wrong blue can do the opposite to restful and serene! Translating colour from a inspiration photo to a paint chip and then into a room setting is not easy. There are a considerable amount of factors that go into play.

I have taken a serene landscape of vivid blues and toned them down to create more appropriate blues for an interior.

It all comes down to figuring out what we want a building or space to communicate to us first. As I have written before, there is an important methodology in choosing colour correctly and having someone trained in this methodology is even more important! Don’t trust the “latest colour of the year” or your personal tastes, hire an expert and know that psychological outcomes have been considered foremost!

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Sheri Peterson, IACC, Vice President- IACC-NA

Accredited Colour Consultant/Interior Designer

[email protected]