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The effects of colour in educational design

The effects of colour in educational interior design

Colour is remarkable! It is an essential sense that provides us with vital information about the world we live in, but it is not simple. It is a powerful communication tool and can be used to signal action, influence mood, and even influence physiological reactions. Therefore, it is imperative that we fully understand how it influences us and our environments. This document aims to delve into the world of education but more specifically the effects of colour in education/ learning.

The classroom is the place where students learn their place in the world. It is the place where they will shape their futures, decide what they want, what they want to be and set up their objectives. If a classroom is this important for the development of a child, then it carries great importance to design and paint that classroom according to the children.

It was discovered in a scientific study conducted by Sinofsky and Knirck (1981) that colours affect the behaviour, attitude, attention span and learning of students. According to this research study, the colour of a classroom can affect the degree students are able to absorb information. This underlines the importance of choosing colours in the field of education based on function instead of aesthetics. A space that has too little visual stimulation can decrease productivity and creativity and contrary to this too much stimuli/ colour can be overpowering on the senses.

Franke Mahnke (1987) explains the significance of colour in the field of education as follows:

“Colour accomplishes a small constructive feat contrary to what gloomy environments can never do… The leaders in education must understand how essential the psycho-physiologic contribution of a school’s physical facilities is to its educational environment. Appropriate colours are important in terms of protecting eye health, providing a creative and productive space and protecting physical and mental health. Many problems such as nervousness, uneasiness, loss of interest and behavioural problems arise due to deficient conditions and environments, unplanned light and colours.” (Renk Etkisi)

Colour is typically broken down into two categories, warm and cool. Warm colours in education are attributed to increasing stimulation. These are the colours of preference for calm, timid children of low energy whilst cool colours are calming. These are appropriate for use where highly energetic, hyperactive children are concerned

Some examples of warm colours are:

Yellow is in the range to which the eye is the most sensitive in the spectrum. It stimulates the brain and increases brain activity as well as perception. It proves beneficial in achieving concentration, focusing on work and remembering information.

  • It is a colour associated with happiness, enjoyment and entertainment. (Mahnke, Meerwein, and Rodeck, 2007)
  • This is a colour that has a favourable effect on children with asthma and breathing problems. (Torrice & Logrippo, 1989)
  • It is the colour that is most favoured by children aged 7. (Terwogt & Hoeksma, 2001)
  • The colour yellow was associated with honesty in a study conducted with elementary school senior class students. (Karp&Karp, 1988)
  • It is the colour that is the most bright and radiant among all others. When used in abundance, yellow may disturb the eyes and could cause uneasiness and nervousness. (Morton, 1988)

Red is a dominant colour, is a signal for alarm as it attracts attention first among all stimuli. Objects in red seem closer than objects in other colours.

  • It is in the longest wavelength and its emotional impact is the highest.
  • It evokes feelings of excitement and happiness psychologically.(Boyatzis&Varghese, 1993)
  • It increases blood pressure, as well as breathing, heart rate and sense of smell. (Engelbrecht, 2003)
  • It especially evokes positive feelings in girls. It is one of the colours that is most preferred by children aged 7.(Terwogt & Hoeksma, 2001)
  • It is a colour associated with sports due to being linked to power and strength. It can be used in sports related areas.
  • Due to being an energetic, action-inducing colour, it helps emotions to surface and motivates taking action.
  • Although it is an energetic and stimulating colour, its use in excess could lead to uneasiness, anger and discomfort. It is not suitable for use as a wall colour in classrooms.

Orange is an appetite-improving and entertaining colour.

  • It has a revitalizing, boosting effect.(Torrice &Logrippo, 1989)
  • It is the favourite colour of children in the 5-8 age group.(Khalili, 2010)
  • It influences introverted children with problems in socializing. (Torrice & Logrippo, 1989)
  • It is a positive and optimistic colour that keeps morale high.
  • It affects critical thinking skills and memory positively. (Khalili, 2010)

Some examples of cool colours are:

Blue is a rational colour. It enhances concentration. It also helps the development of the decision-making mechanism. (Mahnke, Meerwein, and Rodeck, 2007).

  • It is associated with deep thinking and meditation. (Grangaard, 1993)
  • It is linked to attention, reading and vitality. (Morton, 1998)
  • It is related to feelings of security and safety.
  • It is the favourite colour of children in the 7-11 age group. (Terwogt &Hoeksma, 2001)
  • Children with hearing and visual impairment prefer the colour blue. (Torrice & Logrippo, 1989)
  • It slows down the heart rate and breathing as it has a calming effect.(Engelbrecht, 2003)
  • The colour blue was associated with sadness in a study conducted with elementary school senior class students. (Karp&Karp, 1988)

Green is associated with feelings of security, relief and relaxation.

  • It stimulates the mind both emotionally and logically. (Mahnke, Meerwein, and Rodeck, 2007)
  • Green is the predominant colour in nature. It is a combination of yellow with connotations of happiness and joy on one end of the spectrum and blue that is in the shorter spectrum and linked with peace and calmness. (Grangaard, 1993)
  • It is related to the vocal cords. It affects developing language skills. (Torrice & Logrippo, 1989)
  • It is the colour that is the most soothing on the eyes.
  • It has an impact on reaching correct decisions.
  • Since it emits a soft level energy, its use in artistic activities, dancing and cooking schools is appropriate.
  • Its use in language laboratories and creative activities helps learning.

Pre School

Children in age groups as young as 3-6 years old are particularly attracted to bright colours such as red and yellow. Contrary to popular belief the brightness and intensity of these colours will only be effective in attracting their attention, as excessive stimulation does not contribute to their learning. Instead of very bright yellows and reds, pale salmon pink, light yellow or light peach colours can be used in the classrooms of preschool children to reduce anxiety, tension and excitement

Primary school

Children in this age group need more of a boost to their attention and concentration at school. Greens with a little bit of beige and blue in them are appropriate for this age group. It is important that the walls that the students and teacher face in the classroom are different from the side walls. The colours of the walls that they face must be specially selected to ensure that the students don’t strain their eyes by looking at the same tone all day and that their eyes are rested. (Mahnke, 1987)

Secondary School

Typically, young adults in this age bracket experience changes in their tastes from warm to cool colours. Blue and green are colours indicative of maturity and calmness. Children in this age group are expected to be more focused and concentrated on their lessons instead of being energetic in the classroom.

The Use of Colour in Autism Spectrum Disorders

The use of colour is important in designing the immediate environment of children with autism spectrum disorder. Researchers have revealed that children with autism spectrum disorder have anomalies in their eye structure. The rod and cone cells experience changes due to chemical imbalances and neural deficits. Studies have revealed that 85% of the children in this spectrum perceive colours more intensely in comparison to children displaying normal development. Duller colours with white and grey undertones have a calming effect on children in this spectrum. Pale pink has been nominated as the favourite colour for children with autism in the tests conducted. Moreover, cool colours such as blue and green also have a calming and soothing effect.

Designing for emotional wellbeing with biophilia

Biophilic design has profound benefits to engaging our senses and supporting emotional wellbeing: reduced cortisol levels (a marker of our body’s stress response), increased kindness, improved learning engagement and increased social connectivity. Beyond supporting emotional wellbeing, it has even been shown to positively impact an organization’s financial wellbeing through increasing focus and productivity, for example.

How to Incorporate Biophilic Design into Learning Spaces

While biophilic design is intended to be completely immersive by replicating the same experience that being in nature would create, there are ways to introduce biophilic elements into your classrooms and other learning spaces and to gain the benefits nature provides

Natural Materials and Textures

Especially in areas of school where natural settings aren’t visible, bring the outdoors inside by replicating natural patterns, textures, and colours in the surface treatments used on walls, floors, and furniture. The multisensory classroom includes tactile tables, soft seating elements, nature-inspired colour palettes and shapes, and living walls.

Organic Form – select furniture that defies traditional geometric shapes like squares and triangles, and opt for more natural, curved organic forms instead

Natural Light – make the best use of natural daylight by placing tables and seating close to windows.

Consider relocating any storage currently positioned near windows, to maximize how students can use those daylight-rich spaces.

Open blinds whenever possible and remove any window-mounted artwork, signage, or other items that block daylight. (


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