The business of applied colour psychology – let’s explore

All my life I’ve been consciously creating with colour – as a student and artist studying textile design 25+ years ago, and latterly as a marketing and brand strategist. The colours we choose to wear, to dress our environment such as our home and office space, and those we choose to brand our business with, have a huge impact on human behaviour, and how we are perceived by others. It’s a subject I’m really passionate about. 

So last September I was hugely flattered and honoured to be invited by Debbie Pinder, the Programme Leader and Senior Teaching Fellow for the MA Luxury Brand Management course at Winchester School of Art, to be a guest speaker, to present to her international students. Debbie had read an article I had published in Hotel Designs Magazine titled ‘The psychology between colour in interior design and wellbeing’, so the remit for my talk was to expand on the piece, share my industry experience and real case studies on brand development, and guide the students on the key stages to develop a brand strategy.  

Arriving on the campus was pretty daunting but also exciting. Having not stepped inside a university building for many years, I found the smell of turps and paint oozing from the print rooms strangely comforting, and the sight of all the sculptures and pieces of clothing being made utterly beautiful. It definitely stirred many wonderful memories of being a student and appealed to my creative spirit. 

Luxury hotel design

When drafting an article titled ‘The psychology between colour in interior design and wellbeing’ for Hotel Designs magazine, I was asked by the editor Hamish Kilburn to checkout and review three luxury hotels from around the world, namely Plaza 18 in Andalucia, Spain; the Riveria Hotel and Spa in Mykonos, Greece and Nhow in London, UK. For now, I’m going to further explore the luxury elements of Plaza 18.

In many ways, luxury is in the eye of the beholder but for me there are some key ingredients that make something stand out as ‘luxury’. When I think about hotels, it’s a combination of the richness, depth and tone of the colours chosen, and the textures of the fabrics applied to the soft furnishings, to the reception and welcome experience, the dining lounge and bar, to the hotel rooms and suites. It’s also about the art, sculptures and artefacts that have been added to spaces to embellish the atmosphere and create a sense of mystery and intrigue. 

When I look at the design and colour applied to Plaza 18, this hotel showcases discreet, understated luxury with a hint of history and heritage. The choice of monochrome design and classic style, demonstrated in the chequered black and white floor tiles is bold and classic, and creates wonderful geometric lines. There’s also a splash of vibrant red that pops out in the artwork featured on the wall, in contrast to the soft green foliage that brings a hint of nature, softness and balance to the space. 

Black as a colour portrays glamour, elegance and sophistication and for many gives a sense of allure and mystery. In this room it adds gravitas and presence. However, if used excessively it will create an experience of heaviness and oppression. 

White as a colour suggests clean and quiet, and helps us keep our emotions in check. In other environments white can feel stark and cold, therefore it’s important to use colour with context and purpose. Here the white creates contrast next to the black, and the ­sharp lines draw a guest into the space.  

It’s worth remembering that all colours have psychological duality in how they can change and influence our behaviour, both positively ­and negatively (with the exception of grey – it has no positive traits). Also, we never see colour in isolation so it’s always a combination of colours that evokes an experience, feeling or behaviour.

Developing a brand – Workshop framework 

Whilst the students at Winchester University learn the theoretical knowledge and practical skills required to succeed in the management of complex luxury brands, they were keen to hear about some case studies of how a brand is created and developed outside the luxury space, and to identify where there are synergies. So, it was fantastic to share my experience of 20+ years of building brands in the agency and technology space, and to give them guidance on a workshop framework to kick-start conversations when building a brand from the bottom up. 

The business of applied colour psychology 

To expand my knowledge and to better understand the behavioural science of colour and its impact on us as human beings, I’m studying a course aimed at professionals in applied colour psychology. It’s funny going from guest speaker to student, but I’m a firm believer in paying it forward, giving back when I’m able, and in continuing to grow ­– personally and professionally – to better serve myself and those around me. 

In this course I’ve been recapping on colour terminology, debunking colour myths that exist in the colour industry, understanding more about the psychological properties of the 11 main colours and much, much more. As the months progress I’ll be learning about colour physics with colour psychology and how, when brought together, they can evoke predictable psychological responses, to how to apply specific colour combinations to create positive behavioural effects in any given situation and space – from building a brand, to creating a home, an office, and every other environment or building space you can think of. 

It’s time to get creative and consciously create with colour 

So, this is where you come in… If you’re curious about colour and how you can better apply it in your life, your home and your business, I’d love to hear from you. I’m keen to put what I’m learning into practice so I’m inviting friends and family to experience a little of this journey with me – we will grow together. 

Initially this will take the form of us meeting (most likely virtually for 30 minutes) and us exploring your thoughts around colour. Over the duration of the course, the end result for me will be me embedding my learning and knowledge, and hopefully you will have a better understanding of your relationship with colour and how to apply it in various areas of your life. 

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