Color Psychology. The Influence of Color on Emotions & Behavior in Architectural & Interior Design. | Ana Marcu | Skillshare

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Color Psychology. The Influence of Color on Emotions & Behavior in Architectural & Interior Design.

teacher avatar Ana Marcu, Home Wellbeing, Licensed architect

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

11 Lessons (33m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Why Colour Affects Us

    • 3. Factor 1 - Light

    • 4. Factor 2- Culture

    • 5. Factor 3 - Time

    • 6. Bright & Saturated Colours

    • 7. White

    • 8. Red

    • 9. Pink

    • 10. Class Project

    • 11. Final Thoughts

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About This Class

We often believe that we are the sole authors of our thoughts and emotions when in fact, a lot of factors can influence them. One of these factors is represented by colours.

The class is composed of 3 main parts: 

1. Why colour affects us

2. The 3 factors impacting our perception of colour: Light, Culture and Time 

3. Finally, 4 interesting stories illustrating how colour is intertwined with how people feel and behave and how it can be used as a tool to bring out certain emotions or behaviours from us. 

Recommended reading for this class: 

Beauty, by Stefan Sagmeister 

The secret lives of color, by Kasia St. Clair

To follow up on all the photos and videos that I have used in this class, you can find them under the following Pinterest board. 

**Captions available 


Who am I?

I’m a licensed architect with over a decade of experience in Vienna, Austria. I have a double degree in Architecture and "Building Science and Technology" and I am deeply passionate about design psychology and optimising interior design in order to create great emotional experiences for people. My goal is to design spaces that make people FEEL loved, happier, healthier, and more creative.

In my classes, you will find tips and strategies that will help you design a great home. You will learn how certain design decisions can influence your emotions and behaviour and what you can do to create a home that will make you feel happier and supported in your goals.

You can also check out my class How to Think Like an Architect.

Books and Media I recommend.   


Links to other classes

A Hygge Home: Danish Interior Design Principles for Cosiness and Comfort.

Room Fragrances. How Scents Influence your Performance, Wellbeing & Interior Design Experience.

Home Interior Design for Better Habits. Self-development by Design.

Home Office Interior Design. Work from Home like a Boss.

Interior Design for Small Apartments. Space Saving Hacks for Studio and One Bedroom Apartments.


Back to Skillshare Lifestyle / Other category pages


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Ana Marcu

Home Wellbeing, Licensed architect


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1. Introduction: We underestimate the impact of color because we view it as an instrument of decoration, not utility. It is, after all, the thin layer of coating applied to walls, to canvases and to textiles. It is not part of us, but part of our environment. And it surely doesn't affect us and it most certainly doesn't influence us. Or does it? Hi, my name is Ana Marcu. I'm a licensed architect in Vienna, Austria. I have a double degree in Architecture and Building Science, and my passion is to create spaces that make people feel happier, healthier and more creative. In this class I'm going to talk about how color is not just a theory, but there's a lot more science to it than you think. So if you take this class, you're going to learn, among other things, how color can affect your mood, can help you win a game, can improve your work performance, can make people happier and more joyful, and it can even prevent crime. This class is meant for people who want to understand more about their emotions and behavior and how that can be influenced by the colors of our built environment. Because I'm an architect, a lot of the examples used in this class focus on color applied to buildings and interiors. But just like many of my other classes,it is mixed with references from other fields like fashion, sports, history, biology and, of course, psychology. At the end of this class, you'll have a quiz prompting you to answer 10 questions on topics covered in this class. So make sure you pay attention. Let's start the class. And if anybody ever dares to tell you that color is not important, I hope you can refer back to these stories and tell them about the latest science and the difference that color makes and keeps on making in people's lives. 2. Why Colour Affects Us: Colors have the capacity to influence our emotions and our evolution is a big reason for that. Scientists are estimating that we can see as many as seven million distinct shades of color. Why would we see so many different colors unless, of course, we need in order to survive? The biggest difference in our vision was made twenty-five million years ago, when monkeys who are otherwise nocturnal adopted a diurnal schedule that we know today. Having to rely more and more on sight rather than on smell, made the ability to see color and adaptive advantage. While the eyes of the nocturnal monkeys only had two color sensing cone-cells, our ancestors evolved, a third cone-cell sensitive to light in the middle of the spectrum, allowing us to see more shades of color and particularly to distinguish red from green. This was important because it allowed for identifying the fruits of the tree from the leaves. So color indicated sources of energy and finding color made the difference between our ancestors surviving another day or not, which is why we are so very sensitive to it. Scientists believe that color vision became such an important part of our survival that we sacrificed our other senses like our sense of smell in order to allow an increased capacity to process it. So how did color become intertwined with our emotions? Well our organisms operate on energy that we find in our surroundings. We feel a sense of hunger and are pushed to look for it and then feel the sense of joy and happiness and release, once we find it. At least for a while. So bright colors so reliably predicted nourishment that they became associated with joy, happiness and a sense of relief. Color is the energy we need to survive made visible and brightly lit colorful environments are an indication of environments that are capable of nourishing us or sustaining us long term. Additionally, to finding food, the colors of the environment, together with the colors of the light, also informed us about the time of day or the seasons we are in or are about to arrive. So paying attention to the colors around us was also critical to our survival, but more about light and its relationship to color in the next lesson. 3. Factor 1 - Light: Light is colours power supply, how we perceive color is often connected to the intensity of the light, so light and color need to be looked at together. We mentioned in the previous class that color is connected to our emotion, but Light is also connected to our emotions. How is that? Light has a massive impact on our circadian rhythm, regulating our sleep-wake cycle, it regulates our vitamin D production and it influences the levels of serotonin, which is the prime hormone implicated in how happy we feel. Increasing exposure to daylight reduces blood pressure and improves mood and alertness. So color is connected to our emotions and light is connected to our emotions. And light and color are connected to each other. Light, color and emotions are often connected to each other, especially in how languages try to make sense of how we feel. On a sad day, we say "we have a black cloud over us" or "we feel blue". But when things are going well, we say "life is golden". Our moods brighten and darken. We can look at the bright side or we can see things in a dark light. Turn down the intensity of the light and our mood will go down with it. So bright colors, colors that reflect light in the room will keep our mood up, while dark colors that absorb light will dim down our mood. Bright colors unlike dark colors, spark a feeling of joy and delight. Light pink and sky blue are more energizing than navy and burgundy because they reflect more light in the room, imbuing a space with life. Dark desaturated colors, on the other hand, absorb light, bringing down the energy in the space. According to a study done by graphic designer Orlah O'Brien in UK & Ireland, people associate bright colors with happiness and excitement, and dark colors like black and brown with negative emotions. A study from 2007 on the impact of light and color on the psychological mood of a thousand workers from across the world suggests that people who work in light, colorful spaces are more joyful, more alert, more friendly, more interested and even more confident. The drab tones of our schools and offices make us feel restless and under-stimulated. And colors, specifically, bright colors are like a shot of caffeine to our eyes. It wakes us up from complacency. But some nations have no problem to splash more colors on their walls, while others need more convincing. And that's because our perception of color is also dependent on our culture. And we will take a closer look at how culture impacts our perception of color in the next lesson. 4. Factor 2- Culture: Our response to color has also a cultural aspect to it, because different cultures give colors a different meaning. For example, in Europe and North America blue is considered soothing and peaceful, but blue-eye-shaped amulets protect against the evil eye in Greece and Turkey. And in Ukraine, blue denotes health. Green in Western cultures represents luck, wealth, spring and freshness. But in a country like China, it is associated with infidelity. Yellow in most Western cultures is associated with warmth and optimism and cheeriness. But in a country like Germany, it is associated with envy. Orange is the color of autumn, warmth and harvest in Western cultures. In Colombia it is associated with fertility. And in Eastern cultures, where monk wear orange robes It is associated with love and happiness. Death is represented by a black in some Western cultures and in some Eastern cultures, it is represented by white. So while our evolution has made us very susceptible to colors, what meaning we ultimately give colors, is very dependent on our cultural background and our emotional experiences with them. Some cultures really love saturated colors, while others are a bit more shy when it comes to incorporating them. If you look at many nations in the world, particularly Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, people cover themselves from head to toe in colorful textiles and paint their buildings with vivid colors. But if you look at many European cities, they are covered in nuances of beige and grey and vivid colors are saved for special occasions and celebrations. One of the most influential people in this aspect was Johan Wolfgang von Goethe, who was a great thinker and writer but not a great designer as far as I know. He wrote in 1810 in a book named after himself "Gothes Theory of Colours", that "savage nations, uneducated people and children have a great predilection for vivid colors and that people of refinement avoid vivid colors in their dress and the objects that are about them and seem inclined to banish them from their presence altogether". Vivid colours are being dismissed as childish and frivolous prizing neutral hues as the mark of coolness and mature taste. Self-restrainment is the True North, and exuberance is an indulgence. It hasn't always been like this in Europe though, as people have adorned their clothes and their homes with vivid colors for centuries. But our perspective on color can change not just with culture, but with time, as we will see in the next lesson. 5. Factor 3 - Time: At the beginning of the 20th century, two World Wars and the Great Depression left many European countries penniless and resources depleted, struggling to rebuild their cities and to create living spaces for as many people as possible for as little money as possible. This background of scarcity gave birth to the international style who set the trend towards simplification in decor and desaturation in color. Bright, vivid colors were nowhere to be seen. Luckily, not everyone embraced this trend. And in the 1980s, Viennese Artist Friedrich Hundertwasser turned his attention towards Vienna's housing and waste incineration plant, hoping to change the face of architecture forever. He wanted to create humane and environmentally friendly buildings, which went very much against the trends of the time of functionality and standardization and were very much against the sea of grey springing up all over the city. His art was full of vibrant colors and his architecture followed suit, incorporating not just colors but organic shapes and nature. Vienna's Hundertwasser house, a small housing block completed in 1985 houses 52 apartments, 19 terraces, 4 offices and 250 trees and bushes integrated in the structure. He also took the Vienna Incineration Waste Plant and decorated its chimney with golden balls and red columns and covered it with his signature decorative elements. These projects were so different from what was being built at that time that architects denounced the results and he became the laughing stock. Even at the University of Applied Arts, where he was a student for three months, he was regarded as positively uncool. He was never really formally educated as an architect, and his style was a little slapdash, lacking in the elegance of somebody like, let's say Gaudi, who equally shared his love for organic shapes. But he innately understood that our built environment has to resemble and be in constant contact with our natural environment, and that colors have the ability to lift the human spirit. But time changes everything. And 40 years later, the Viennese relationship to his buildings has changed, making his buildings prime highlights on every tourist guide and attracting thousands of tourists from all over the world. The Vienna Waste Incineration Plant, unlike other plants which are grey, ugly and forgotten at the outskirts of the city, is flooded with tourists and tours take place all around the clock in order to allow as many people as possible to see his unique designs. But bright colors are not just a tourist attraction point in a city. Used more widely they can change the behavior of people living in them. And I will talk more about this, in the next lesson. 6. Bright & Saturated Colours: Durin the second half of the 20th century, Albanians lived under a very restrictive communist regime. When the Eastern-Block collapsed in 1989 Albania became one of the most dysfunctional and corrupt countries in the former Soviet Union. In the 1990s Edi Rama, the son of a painter, returned to Tirana, the capital of Albania, for his father's funeral and decided to stay and involve himself in politics, running successfully as the mayor of Tirana. In his words: "Tirana looked like a transit station where one could stay if only waiting for something" while the cities in neighbouring countries vastly improved. Starved of resources by 10 years after the communist regime, Tirana had become a haven for organized crime, pickpockets and prostitutes were at every corner and garbage piled up uncollected in the streets. The city was composed of block after block of grey Soviet-style buildings. There was no money in the Treasury to rebuild, but Rama secured funding from Germany and used it to paint the facades of buildings in vibrant hues of color. Rama sketched some of the first designs himself, choosing strong orange colours and Gaudi like patterns. The sight of the first buildings provoked very mixed reactions. People stopped in their tracks like they had seen a superstar. Some people were curious, others were horrified, a few delighted. When colors came out, a mood of change started transforming the spirit of the people, they stopped littering the streets, they paid taxes, and shopkeepers removed the metal grates and shutters from the windows, claiming that the streets felt safer even though there were no more police than before. Edi Rama said in a popular TED talk, and I quote: "Beauty was acting as a guardsman, where police or the state itself were missing." And indeed, it was Beauty that was giving the people the feeling of being protected. And this was not a misplaced feeling, crime did fall. Only the surface has changed, and yet everything has changed in peoples, sense of pride and belonging and how they interacted with the space and with each other. Similar projects can be seen in New York, where the organization Publicolor transformed schools by painting them with vibrant colors. Often after such projects, principles report improved attendance from students and teachers, and just like in Tirana, both students and teachers self-report feeling safer. Another beautiful demonstration of how color and design can change people's behavior in public space is the project of Stefan Sagmeister, called "The Yes Wall". "The Yes Wall" are actually two opposing walls belonging to an underpass of a Brooklyn Bridge. The underpass was used as a toilet by drunken people coming out from the neighbouring bars. With a limited budget the designers decided to paint two beautiful murals on the walls of the underpass changing the way the underpass was used forever. Once the murals were painted it became an attraction point for many people. Because of the massive "yes", many newlyweds use the wall as a backdrop for wedding photography. The underpass was essentially transformed from a toilet to a chapel. 7. White: In order for you to understand how important color is into our lives, you should understand what the lack of color can do to us. Because seeing only white can be a torturer to look at and I mean this literally. White room torture is a type of psychological torture that aims at complete sensory deprivation and isolation. A prisoner is held in a cell that deprives them of all senses and together with that their sense of identity. The room has no window and therefore no light and no views to the outside world. Visually, the prisoner is deprived of all color. Their cell is completely white. The floor, the ceiling, the walls, their clothes and even the food. White lights are coming from neon tubes positioned in such a way that no shadows are creating, depriving the prisoner of even some shades of gray. The room is soundproof and the guards stand in silence. They use special padded shoes and avoid making any noise. The prisoner cannot hear anything but themselves. Each day the prisoner is served white food, typically unseasoned white rice depriving them of the senses of taste and smell. Detainees are held for months or even years in such conditions, and the effects can be catastrophic, resulting in loss of personal identity, hallucinations and psychotic breaks. Due to the lack of natural light prisoners also lose a sense of time not knowing if they have been visited the same day, the same week or even the week before. One of the detainees who escaped this torture system said that loneliness never leave him and he is not able to sleep without the help of sleeping pills, even after his release. So whenever you embrace minimalism a little bit too fondly and think about bringing home yet another piece of white furniture think about the story of white torture and that sensory stimulation is what your body and mind needs in order to thrive. 8. Red: Unlike any other color, red seems to have an effect on people from all over the world and it is the one color that has been studied the most. The color of blood, red has also been associated with sex, anger, joy, power and death. 72% of the world's flags have the color red in them. It just comes to show you how much we pay attention to it. Humans are not the only primates sensitive to red, as Rhesus Macaques and Mandrills are also susceptible to it displaying red areas on their faces and genitalia as an indication of testosterone and aggression. Bulls on the other hand, are not affected at all by red as they are colourblind. And if you think about it, why would they see color? They only eat grass. So what happens during the Corridas is that they respond to the swish and flutter of the cape of the Matador and they charge, which with equal force both on the blue side of the cape and the red side of the cape. Humanity has such an affinity to color red that the first color ever recorded in human history, which is between the sixth and the fourth millennia, is the color Haematite Red, which is extracted from iron oxide. Since the upper Paleolithic era some fifty thousand years ago, tools and objects stained with red have accompanied people all over the world and have been found in Paleolithic sites in North Africa, China, and Europe. In ancient Egypt, mummies were wrapped in linen, dyed with Hematite Red and the God of the afterlife, Osiris was the "God of the red cloth". But humanity didn't just like red it liked bright red, showing early signs of decline in the use of Haematite Red, which is a kind of brown-red, once more vivid variations of red were available. So when Cochineal Red was available, it was the color used by Roman generals. And so special was this color that the word "color", which is "Coloratus" and "red", which is "Ruber" were synonymous. Red, was also the color of choice of cardinals and royalty. And people went to great lengths to extract and produce pigments of vibrant red, almost decimating entire populations of bugs and crustacea. Until synthetic dyes were discovered dyes and particularly red dyes, were extracted from small insect no bigger than a pinhead. For the color of Cochineal, 70.000 bugs were needed for a pound of dye for Scarlet Red, the favourite colors of many European families a pound of dye required the bodies of thirty-six thousand Kerme beetles, which were found mostly in the south of Europe. Getting the precise tone took a lot of skill. But the finished product was a dye so red that the cloth dyed with it was the epitome of luxury and it costed a fortune. So what does science tell us about how Red affects us? A study published in the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism advised waitresses to wear red because customers would tip them twenty-six percent more. In a 2007 study testing the effects of color on intellectual performance, showed that when subjects were asked to solve anagrams, those whose tests has red covers, performed significantly worse than those whose tests had covers that were green or black. At the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, competitors wearing red won fifty-five percent of the time. A study made in Holland showed that poker players who were given red chips were more competitive and more likely to bet more. When they were asked how they felt, they said they felt strong. But players who were given white and blue chips were more likely to fold. So in conclusion, red is a stimulative color which excites our senses and attracts our attention and should be used very carefully, both in fashion and interior design. 9. Pink: In the late 60s, two researchers in Canada were interested to find out how they can improve the attendance in the classrooms and reduce the dropout rates of students. So they went around and schools in Canada and painted the classrooms in four different colors: blue, green, yellow and pink. They measured the students to see if they would be smarter, would give better contribution during the lesson, would be better behaved and so on. It was reasonably unscientific and it wasn't done with a very careful eye. What they found is that blue was okay sometimes, it reminded the kids of the sky. And green remind them of nature and yellow was a bit more vibrant. But pink... pink had an interesting effect. It pacified students. They were a bit more quiet and a bit more thoughtful. So the researchers took the study further, measuring the physical strength of thirty-eight young men, half of whom stared at the pink piece of cardboard and the other half at a blue piece of cardboard. And after that they did it again, but this time with the cardboards reversed. After staring at a coloured piece of cardboard, the young men were asked to grip a hand-grip dynamometer as hard as they could to measure their strength. It turned out that 98,7% of them were stronger after looking at the blue cardboard rather than a pink cardboard. Because in the late 1970s, America was fighting a massive drug epidemic which resulted in the rise of violent crime rates A scientific solution to making people less aggressive caught the eye of many people, especially those working in the prison systems. Two commanding officers of the US Naval Correction Center in Seattle Jim Baker and Ron Miller wanted to try this groundbreaking idea in their facility and painted one of their prison cells pink to see if a similar effect could be monitored in their prison. They mixed a pint of semigloss red trim paint with a gallon of pure white latex paint, obtaining a shade of bubblegum pink, which is known to this day as the Baker Miller Pink. They painted all the walls and the ironwork of the prison cell pink. Before the room had been painted violence was a massive problem for them, but once the pink room was given in use, there was not a single incident Four 156 days in a row. They tested this also at a youth centre in San Bernardino and the results were similar. All it took is 15 minutes of exposure. One of the researchers, doctor Schauss started making a lot of public appearances to demonstrate how the newly named Baker Miller Pink was making even the strongest men weaker. In one of the televised appearances, he tried it out on Mr. California and the poor man could not complete a single bicep curl. The Baker Miller Pink became something of a pop culture phenomenon and started to creep everywhere: the seats of bus companies, small town drunk tanks, prison cells of police stations and even the opposing team football lockers. This, of course, created an academic response with many scientists testing this Baker Miller Pink, but the results were a little conflicting. In 1988, a study could not find a correlation between looking at the shade of pink and the strength or the blood pressure of participants. But in 1991, a study could find a reduction of the systolic and diastolic blood pressure of emotionally disturbed participants who were placed in pink rooms. Why Baker-Miller has an effect, is not very clear. Some people say that it's not a calming effect that pink provides, but a shaming effect, as pink is often associated with little girls, and often a pink room in an otherwise grey prison can be so startling that it can interrupt those aggressive patterns. Thinking back at our lesson about vibrant colors, it just makes me wonder how prisoners would feel and behave if prisons weren't painted just pink but vibrant colors in general and were fitted with nature. When all you see is grey, pink can be that stimulation that your senses have been craving for a while. 10. Class Project: For the class project, I'd like you to answer 10 questions. In the class description, you will find a PDF with these questions. Please put in your answers and once you are finished, upload it to the student project section. I would love to see what you have taken away from this class. Now let's see the questions. How many distinct shades of color can our eyes see? What was sacrificed in order to allow an increased capacity to process color? What are the three factors impacting our perception of color? Give one example from your maternal language, with translation, where color is used to express a feeling. If you wanted to dim down the energy in the room, which colors would you choose for the walls? If you wanted to make a neighborhood feel safe, what colors would you paint on the walls? What is the impact of long term sensory deprivation? What is the first color ever to be discovered on the objects of people? What t-shirt color would you choose to increase your chances to win in a game? What color is supposed to have a calming effect and is used in some prisons? 11. Final Thoughts: Congratulations, you have made it to the end of the class. I hope you learned some new things and already feel inspired to apply them. I enjoy teaching this class a lot and I can't wait to see what you have taken away from it. So I invite you to go to the Project and Resources section and share your class project with me and other students of the class. I will make sure to give you feedback and help you on your way. Do comment and encourage other students on their class project. It will help you make some new connections on the platform. Please use the discussion section to let me know your thoughts and questions about the class. I'd love to help you clarify any concepts you do not understand. And it also helps me improve my classes so you can learn better. If you enjoyed this class, I would appreciate a review it, it tell Skillshare that you like my class, and it encourages other people to discover my work. Hit the Follow button if you want to see more classes like this one, or follow me on social media for weekly nuggets of architecture and design wisdom or just funny thoughts.