Color Psychology & Big Pharma

Since starting the blog, I have been spending more time on the web searching for research articles on applied color. Its remarkable how many articles are written about color and the pivotal role it plays in our lives.


Wired Magazine ran an article last fall, Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drug makers Are Desperate to Know Why. “What turns a dummy pill into a catalyst for relieving pain, anxiety, depression, sexual dysfunction, or the tremors of Parkinson’s disease? It is the brain’s own healing mechanisms, unleashed by the belief that a phony medication is the real thing. The most important ingredient in any placebo is the doctor’s bedside manner followed by the color or the tablets.” – Steve Silberman


Yellow pills make for the most effective antidepressants as they are seen as little doses of sunshine. Red pills are most stimulating and provide energy while soothing blue works best for tranquilizers. Green pills reduce anxiety and white tablets are superior for soothing ulcers.

Color association and symbolism provided the basis for the development of the field of color psychology. To see the influence of color penetrate into big Pharma’s attempt to dominate our central nervous system demonstrates how powerful the brain is and that color has a definitive impact on human experience.

Author: Jill Pilaroscia, Colour Studio, Life In Color

Color In The Office Environment

Do office workers benefit from the use of color in their environments?

Image: Red Envelope Office_David Wakely

If you ask the workers you will typically get a positive response. If you ask facilities management you may get a negative answer. If you ask the architects and designers you will get a mixed answer.

Why is this?

Every individual has subjective color likes and dislikes. If the office is designed using a workers preferred colors they tend to like their environment. Conversely if they hate a certain color and must work surrounded by it everyday, you know they will find it irritating.

Image: The Art Of Color_Johanes Itten

From a facilities management perspective, the typical objection to color is the extra work it takes to maintain an office with multiple hues. The time required to clean paintbrushes and paint buckets when several colors are involved translate to department costs.

Architects and designers may frown upon applied colors and believe that color should come from the building materials themselves.

I do not disagree at all with this belief. However, budget driven projects will use special materials in public spaces like the Lobby, Conference and Board Rooms. The open office may not have the budget for special materials.

Image: HP Lobby_Sharon Reisdorf

This is where paint and color can come in to make the work place more appealing.

Is there science behind the application of color to office environments?

Frank Mahnke in his book Color Environment and Human Response outlines a solid body of research supporting the value of color. Citing psycho-physiological, neuro physiological, psychosomatic and visual ergonomic factors, color and light can greatly improve a person’s impression of their workplace. We respond to color in a complex way that operates beyond personal preference. Lack of stimulation whether visual or psychological is associated with boredom, and fatigue.

Image: Cafeteria_David Wakely

By consciously varying the light dark contrasts and using a well rounded palette you can imitate the range of colors one would experience in nature. You also increase the chances of creating a pleasing environment that may appeal of a broad group of end users.

There is no specific formula of colors for an office that can be prescribed. Each office needs to be carefully evaluated to determine its optimal palette. There is ample research in cross-disciplinary fields to support the fact that color can play an important role in the office environment.

Color, Environment & Human Response
Frank H. Mahnke


Color Planning for Interiors
Margaret Portillo