Why Your Office Walls Should Not Be White

why your office walls should not be white

The impact of colour on art, business, culture, psychology and life, in general, has been extensively analysed and written about. Colour’s effects and qualities since Newton’s discovery of the composition of white light, continue to fascinate us.

In recent times, there has been considerable focus on the use of colour in marketing, with one study reporting that nine out of ten of the judgements we make about products are be based solely on colour.

But marketing is not the only area impacted by the use of colour. As individuals, we spend a large part of our lives within enclosed structures. Therefore, it is important that we work in environments that are conducive to our doing our best work. Colour plays an important role here, and over the last 15 years, studies have shown how colour affects such aspects as our well-being, productivity, performance and satisfaction.

In one study of 90 workers, researcher, Nancy Kwallek analysed the effect of colour on productivity and mood by allocating clerical tasks to three groups of people in three different rooms, each painted with either red, white or a light blue-green. Some individuals (which Kwallek refers to as “high screeners”) were able to “screen out” (i.e. not be distracted by) the colour of their work area, whereas others (“low screeners”) were not.

Kwallek’s Key Findings

1. White’s “sterile” quality is not conducive to work

 Both groups made more mistakes in the white office:

“The quintessential office color is white and in a prior study the workers were less productive in a white office than in any other office color”- Nancy Kwallek

Low screeners also experienced higher negative moods in the white room than the high screeners; Kwallek suggests that the “starkness” of the white was “disturbing” for low screeners.

2. Red is “arousing”

In the red room, both groups experienced higher negative moods. However, low screeners experienced greater negative moods compared with high screeners in both red and white rooms.  Low screeners were also less productive in the red office than in the blue-green room. By contrast, high screeners had a greater productivity in the red office compared with their high screening counterparts in the blue-green office, and compared with low screeners in the red office. Kwallek suggests that this may be due to the individual’s “level of arousal increasing”, which translates into increased performance. Low screeners would be overwhelmed and so their performance would deteriorate, whereas high screeners would be aroused and their performance would therefore increase, she posits.

3. Blue-green is “relaxing”

Low screeners experienced greater productivity in the blue-green office than in the red office. However, she suggests that productivity is lower for high screeners as they don’t “experience enough arousal” to maximise their productivity.


Kwallek’s research has revealed two significant insights. First, if you find it difficult to screen out stimuli (i.e. if you are a “low screener”), your mood may well be affected by the colour of your walls, as may your productivity. An adjacent, key point is that response to colour is very individual, so a ‘blanket approach’ to colour would not be effective.

Only when individual differences in the ability to screen irrelevant environmental stimuli were taken into account did the color schemes exhibit a differential impact on productivity.”

Second, her research has found no link between mood and productivity, which is contrary to the prevailing wisdom about the link between mood and productivity.

How does colour affect your wellbeing and your productivity? Share your comments below.

Informed Design