It’s evident that not every color has a positive impact on the working environment. But which colors and combinations have a favorable influence on the psyche and performance in the office, and what factors should be considered? Petra Ruhnau's keynote address at our New Work theme day in Arnsberg provided valuable insights into this.

Petra Ruhnau, a graduate color designer from HAWK Hildesheim, has worked for several years at the Caparol color design studio, the leading German company in architectural coatings, especially for interior and exterior paints. For nearly 50 years, the interdisciplinary team has been creating customized color and material concepts for over 800 projects annually, developing color collections and innovative surface techniques. Petra Ruhnau specializes in unique architectural design through the use of colors, materials and surfaces for both facades and interiors. Below, you’ll find her responses to our brief questionnaire.

How do colors impact productivity and social interactions in the office?

The question is: if working from home becomes the norm, how do we entice employees back to the office? A crucial element, in addition to fulfilling tasks, mutual respect and team spirit, is well-thought-out interior design that offers diverse, balanced atmospheres. Different needs arise depending on our work and personal disposition, be it communication or concentration, stimulation or relaxation.

This calls for rooms with varying qualities where color and material play a vital role. When material and color concepts are tailored to activities and requirements, it has a positive effect on motivation and well-being. Color imbues spaces with emotion, sensuality and inspiration, fostering connectivity and stimulating environments.

Are colors frequently employed to differentiate and delineate different areas in the office?

On the one hand, the chosen colors must support the activities in each area. On the other hand, they should contribute to a cohesive overall concept. To ensure that the latter, careful coordination of color combinations is imperative. As we move through different rooms, we perceive everything, even if it’s subconsciously. Our perception is inherently emotional, which extends to our perception of the space.

Which colors are traditionally used for specific purposes?

In general, warm and inviting colors are suitable for fostering collaboration, teamwork and rejuvenation, as they promote a sense of comfort and togetherness. Traditionally, green and blue are often chosen for quiet zones while vibrant, warm colors like orange and red are preferred for interactive spaces. However, more important than the specific hues of red, green and blue, are the nuances within each color, i.e. the brightness, the saturation and the interplay of shades and contrasts they create.

Focused work, for instance, benefits from soft color contrasts and nuanced pallets that evoke expansiveness, such as soft blue-grey. A clear, high-contrast color scheme supports activation and is well suited for standing meetings where decisions need to be made quickly. Additionally, haptics, including different surfaces, textures (e.g. smooth and rough) and visual ergonomics are also important for orientation, quick comprehension, and clear vision without afterimage effects. Rooms with multifaceted uses, engaging all the senses and offering a relaxed atmosphere, are ideal.

More examples of different scenarios for meeting rooms

What role do natural and artificial lighting play in a color concept?

Color depends on light; without it, there is no color, and without a good lighting design there is no optimal color ambiance. Put differently, without a good lighting design that complements the atmosphere, color designers have a hard time. The effect of color hinges on factors such as light intensity, light color and the specific surfaces in the room. Southern light differs from northern light and artificial lighting, including color temperature and light control play a major role. Some colors need a lot of light to radiate, such as a bright cerulean blue, while other colors work better in the shade, such as deep ultramarine. Creative, textured surface techniques are especially effective in grazing light. Achieving a delicate balance between color, material, and light is therefore vital for a compelling result.

What comes first: the room concept, the color, or the design? 

It all depends on the project and the client. Ideally, we begin by defining the goal: What do I want to achieve with the room, what atmosphere should it convey? Then we can precisely match the colors and surfaces to this. However, the desire for a color design often only arises once the rooms have been completed. By that time, flooring, furniture and surface selections are typically predetermined, then we work with the planners and/or builders to develop objectives and design options. When renovating, it is important to consider existing color schemes. Thankfully, color can serve as a unifying element, awakening a room from its slumber and surprisingly enhancing it, even in unpredictable conditions.