Ergonomic colour design for offices

by Tania Wannenburg
Ergonomic colour design

Cedar Paint’s colour specification guidelines for work places prioritise ergonomic functionality ahead of design aesthetics.

Cedar Paint’s colour experts are well aware that colour plays a much bigger role than just making a decorative impression, and recognise the importance of creating environments with agreeable optical conditions which best promote visual efficiency and aid in user comfort.

Therefore the company prioritises ergonomic functionality ahead of design aesthetics in its specifications guidelines for office settings.

Avoid extreme contrasts
The eye sees luminous density, not intensity, and reacts instantly to changes in illumination. Under low light reflectance, the pupil dilates and in high light reflectance, it constricts. If differences between luminous densities are too much, the iris muscle is strained due to constant adjustments it has to make, which can lead to headaches, tension and even nausea.

In order to create a balanced architectural interior and optimal workplace, it is essential to control extreme colour contrasts and minimise glare.

Light reflectance
Another factor that needs to be taken into account is the light reflectance values (LRVs), the amount of light absorbed and reflected by surface colours. The specifier should obtain these values if they are not indicated on the paint colour swatch itself.

As a design rule-of-thumb, mid-tone intensities with an ideal light-to-reflection ratio of 3:1 are the international norm. This implies that the lightest colour 60% (ceiling excluded) divided by the darkest 20%, maintains a ratio of 3:1.

Recommended reflectance for surfaces:
Floors: 20%.
Furnishings/furniture: 25-40%.
Walls: 40-60% (can be extended to 70%, depending on lighting conditions).
Ceilings: 80-90%.

These percentages may be adjusted as long as the 3:1 ratio is respected. A yellow wall at 60%, for example, will look more like a tan variant and the only solution will be to raise the colour to 75%. However, the percentage of floor and furnishings must then also be raised to avoid extreme contrasts between dark and light.

White walls a no-go
Interestingly, if all designers applied these rules, white walls would not exist – only ceilings where 80-90% is accepted. While white ceilings serve a functional role to diffuse light and reduce shadow effects, white walls induce under-stimulated environments and studies have shown that these are synonymous with restlessness, irritability, concentration difficulty, perception disorders, excessive emotional control and even more extreme conditions.

Often considered an ideal backdrop to offset decorative accent colours, the contrast between white and chromatic decorative colours requires extreme adaptive visual shifts from light to dark, causing eye fatigue. On the other hand, low saturation colours offset against white look bland and under-stimulating.

Functional colour design
Attaining balance in colour design within the architectural space should be the designer’s primary aim. Colour and visual ergonomics play a major role in creating a functional space that aids in perception, concentration and productivity, whilst simultaneously protecting the user’s wellbeing.

* Guidelines as advocated by the International Association of Colour Consultants & Designers (www.iaccna.org).

Cedar Paint
Tel: 012 804 2130
Website: www.cedarpaint.co.za

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