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Coloring Productivity


Researchers at the University of British Columbia have gained greater insight into how color affects us. In general we have understood that color is important. Rooms with cool colors tend to be calming, where warmer colors feel more energizing. Previous studies have also shown that certain colors seem to enhance productivity but there has been much debate about whether red or blue should be the color of choice. As it turns out, it depends on the task.

We associate red with danger or mistakes (whether that is innate or socialized is also open for debate) and thus in the task we are completing we tend to be more careful, as to avoid errors. This finding could be helpful for government agencies like the IRS. If a computer screen had a red background people may actually make less mistakes on their taxes.

Blue on the other hand helps foster creativity and allows people to be open to new ideas. Perhaps if congressional chambers were painted blue legislative negotiations would be more productive and expedient.

On the other hand, the wrong color in certain environments may actually have a negative impact. During a pervious study conducted at the State University of New York by Markus Maier, they discovered that red has a negative impact on IQ test performance. Since red encourages people to avoid error and the IQ test is based on creativity and thinking about of the box, blue would have been a more appropriate color. Following this line of logic would the color of a classroom possible affect a student’s performance on standardized testing? If so could the colors of schools actually create inequities?

Color is still complex and there is still a lot of grey. Would you want a math classroom to be red or blue? Blue may help foster creative problem solving where as red may help students avoid calculation errors. All in all, as we further explore the human mind science typically has shown that design does influence our mood and thus our productivity. So even if the jury is out on the details it may be beneficial to think about implementing design policies where we have evidence on the outcomes and think about our design choices in the areas that are still foggy.

I think my office space should have more blue. I may be on a red-overdose.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs
The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs or the University of Minnesota. The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by the University of Minnesota or the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.