Designers’ explorations of colour and its effect on people’s moods

Last week, an exhibition at the Design Museum opened exploring Hella Jongerius’ research into the subjectivity of colour. Now, we ask designers to tell us about when they’ve consciously chosen shades to evoke certain emotions.

Morag Myerscough, founder, Studio Myerscough

“My Twitter project was all about mood and colour. It started off as an experiment, where I would tweet my mood in the form of a colour twice a day, at morning and night. I was very strict with myself and continued this experiment for over two years.

I then won a commission at Linköping University Hospital, Sweden, which was a 200-metre piece, a completely blank canvas. I thought long and hard and then decided to use my tweets; they are all about moods and emotions, and all the information was already there to use. I translated the colours I had tweeted into a colourful wall mural for the hospital’s corridors.

When I originally tweeted them, I had deliberately not visualised particular shades, so I now needed to think about which ones represented how I felt at the time. The hospital piece consists of one year of my recorded moods, from May to May. When people walk along the piece, I want them to decide what the colours mean to them – it doesn’t matter if it’s not the same as how I felt.”

Dana Robertson, creative director, Neon

“Colour creates mood, and every project has a particular mood. Two examples spring to mind; a rigorous adherence to black and white to convey clarity for a major law firm, and a 100% yellow with grey – the common heraldic substitution for gold – to create a vibrant, contemporary look and feel for a new centre of contemporary silversmithing excellence at The Goldsmiths’ Company. But one thing that was drummed into me early on as a designer is that colour must be rooted in truth. Get that wrong, and what was sure to be colourful was the language from my old bosses at The Partners.”

Paul Cardwell, executive creative director, Brand Union

“We used Pantone 2175 for a dementia charity. It’s a vibrant blue, and it buzzes with energy and challenge. It’s the last thing you’d expect from a charity dedicated to the terminally ill.

But it’s right and it’s relevant. The charity was founded by Sir Jackie Stewart, three times World Champion Formula One driver. He wants to shake up the polite and slightly apologetic world of dementia research. This was his racing colour, and in a way, it still is.”

Pippa Nissen, director, Nissen Richards Studio

“For our recent screenprint exhibition at the British Museum, The American Dream: Pop to the Present, we decided to use colour to evoke a sense of another time.

The curators divided the exhibition into 12 sections, each with a different theme, and so we set about defining these in 12 different colours. We had the unique opportunity of being able to see the collection of prints that the museum had in their stores, so we could test swatches against the artworks themselves.

As these colours were shortlisted, we mocked up large sections of four-metre-high painted walls and hung up the artworks, to make sure that all the different colours in the prints worked with the chosen shades. We wanted to evoke a mood in a subliminal way, without people noticing that there was a bright colour, allowing them to focus on the works themselves.

The first section focused on the 1960s and we wanted to bring out the optimism and boldness in the screenprints. This included 18 huge Andy Warhol prints full of a myriad of tones and colours. We tried many different shades, finally settling on a bright red, Dulux 05YR 15/555.

We were particularly pleased to find out that a frequently asked visitor question was around which particular shades we’d used. I like to think that there may now be many bright red homes around the country that were influenced by the exhibition.”

Sam Bompas, co-founder, Bompas and Parr © Ben Ottewell

“Synaesthesia’s a bit like an orgy; everyone has heard of one happening but few have actually been there. The condition remains the domain of a few creatives who use it to mystify and enchant their artistic process.

Everyone can enjoy cross-modality, however. This is the principle that each of your senses has an impact on the others. There is a theory that certain colours and sounds can shape your sense of taste by up to 20%.

We collaborated with experimental psychologist Professor Charles Spence to design the Flavour Conductor, an organ for Johnnie Walker Blue Label. The instrument uses sound and light to shape your palate, helping you to identify the cardinal flavours in a glass of the scotch.

There’s a lot of pseudoscience around colour theory at the moment. Within the morass of bogus hypotheses, the principles of cross-modality have managed to attain credibility. We are looking forward to seeing how this is used creatively in the future.”

Max Ottignon, co-founder, Ragged Edge

“My favourite example is when we created the brand for Bulb, a new kind of energy supplier. We used our ‘positive energy’ brand idea to describe the company’s mission ‘to make the world a better place by supplying people’s homes with affordable, renewable energy’. When it came to choosing a colour, we needed something to evoke that feeling of warm positivity. It also needed to be a bright, eye-catching colour that no one else was using so that the Bulb brand jumped out on price comparison sites. The obvious choice was a bright fuchsia pink. No other energy company uses it, because no other energy company is that daring. And it delivers the human warmth that ‘positive energy’ evokes.”

When have you used colour to evoke a mood? Let us know in the comments section below.

Hide Comments (3)Show Comments (3)
  • angie moyes July 7, 2017 at 11:42 am

    always – colour always invokes a mood duh!

  • Lionel Openshaw July 10, 2017 at 5:41 pm

    What a shame this feature didn’t have more images to illustrate the projects each designer refers to.

    • Ana April 17, 2018 at 8:56 pm

      I felt the same way, something extremely visual with no samples (mainly as some of them you can’t easily search. A bit disappointed with the article…

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