ELEVATING THE WORKPLACE BEYOND GREY

Karen Haller FRSA is a leading international authority in the field of behavioural colour & design psychology. Karen specialises in Human-Centred Design and how our relationship with colour, design and nature affects and influences us, as well as how businesses and designers can use it to influence positive behaviour and well-being. She is the author of ‘The Little Book of Colour, How to Use the Power of Colour to Transform Your Life.’
As part of Milliken’s Life in Colour campaign we asked Karen Haller to share her views on colour in the workplace with us and in particular – are we saying goodbye to grey? 

Image of Karen Haller a Colour & Design Psychology Expert
“We’ve all noticed how the pandemic has drastically shifted workplace dynamics and design. Beforehand most employees had no choice but to come into the office. However, the pandemic made remote work the norm, and now businesses struggle to convince employees to return, and many find it a challenge to compete with the comfort and convenience of working from home.
Businesses are going to great lengths to entice their employees back to work, going as far as including game rooms, gyms and cafes. Some are creating a home-from-home experience. 
Others are re-designing spaces with biophilic and sensory principles using ergonomically designed furniture, beautiful plants everywhere, making sure there's plenty of natural light and considering acoustics and good air quality. 
These are great enticements and essential good design, but if you want employees to come back to the office and want to stay there, we need to address their emotional needs inside the space once they are in there and working.

“We don't live in a grey world, yet we're expected to work in a sea of grey.”
Milliken's carpet tiles in warm pinks and grey tones
And this is where we have to talk about grey.
Grey pre-pandemic was one of the most heavily used colour palettes in office environments and still the predominant colour in these spaces. We don't live in a grey world, yet we're expected to work in a sea of grey. 

There’s a number of reasons why grey was so popular and here's why…
Grey was considered an on-trend colour palette and part of the modern, timeless design aesthetic. And as it was considered a ‘neutral’ it could be applied anywhere.
However, when it comes to colour psychology, when we are surrounded by predominantly grey (or grey based colours), for the majority of people, it’s draining and tiring.

Now grey isn't the bad guy. 
There is no such thing as a wrong colour. It's just where and how it is used. Grey is a great colour to use when you want to hide something in plain sight, like pillars or pipework or doors as grey recedes visually. 
But if our aim is to entice people back into the workplace, going back to grey is going to feel like taking a step backwards.
When it comes to biophilic or sensory design, colour is the missing piece in creating spaces that foster positive change.  This is why moving forward, colour is going to feature much more predominantly in design because it supports designers to meet those emotional needs in a positive way.

“We have an immediate emotional response to colour whether we are aware of it or not.”
Milliken's London showroom with coloured carpet tiles with nature motifs
Because colour is going to feature so predominantly, that’s why it's likely we're not going to go back to grey, especially once employees have experienced being surrounded by colours that support positive feelings and behaviours.

Colour is actually the first thing that we see whenever we walk into any space. We have an immediate emotional response to colour whether we are aware of it or not. 
This makes colour an incredibly powerful tool that designers can use to support people’s emotional needs in the workplace and enhance company culture.    

Right now a lot of designers are going for a residential look to create that ‘home away from home’ feel. They are aesthetically beautiful and fit the look, however the final missing piece of the puzzle here is that the right colours allow us to support people in their working roles.  Whether that’s helping them to focus, to be inspired, to feel productive, to communicate better or whatever behaviours need to be supported in that working space. 

Milliken's London showroom with coloured carpet tiles with nature motifs
So grey is becoming a thing of the past, and as we move into the future, designers get to consciously use the entire array of nature-based colours and design options to help their clients to entice people back into the workplace by creating environments where they feel positively supported to do their best work and thrive.” 

For more information about the author Karen Haller visit https://karenhaller.com/