The Colour Real

06 Apr

Psychology of Colour in the Educational Environment

When it comes to colour in the learning environment, function trumps aesthetics. Colour trend & other such frivolities have no power here. The science of colour psychology is the reason to pick a blue over a red, or an orange over a purple. The well executed colour palette can enhance the absorption of information & facilitate the thinking process.

The age of the students is an important factor to consider. According to Frank Mahnke (Color, Environment & Human Response) there are age guidelines to follow. Preschool & elementary school students prefer the warmer side of the palette (red/orange/yellow) while the high school & post secondary level students gravitate towards the cooler side of the colour wheel (blue/green/mauve). These cooler tones help support study & increase calm, and works not only with focus but levels out hormones too!


As with anything though it's a balancing act that shouldn't be completely one sided on the colour wheel. For the purposes of this article here are some functional colour types for high school & post secondary spaces:


The blue colour family works well in science & math based classrooms by lowering the heart rate & allowing concentration to kick in.


The natural colour of balance, greens are great for counseling, libraries, history & social studies spaces. The calm of blue and creativity of yellow collide in the multi-tasking green family of colour.


Gentle energy yellows are great for classrooms dealing with languages & other creative pursuits...fine art, dance, culinary arts.


Oranges & peach tones support athletic facilities, drama, media centres & cafeteria settings. Warning: too much can overstimulate so best to balance out with a complimentary cool tone.



School entrances & hallways are a great platform to show school colours (community) & use stronger colours to uplift the energy in the walk between classes, balanced out with neutrals.


Variety is important as is the amount of variety. Too little can set up patterns of boredom & introversion. Too much can strain the mind with overstimulation. Even within the classroom itself, variety in colour has proven to support the learning process& reduce eyestrain & fatigue. The atmosphere we want in a classroom may be two-fold – for example, in one type of classroom, a calm pale neutral works for most of the room with the front wall in a functional midtone that allows the students to intermittently rest their eyes from the high contrast of the text they are absorbing. To take it a step further, a support colour can come into play at the back of the room to give the teacher a lift, since their back is usually to the front wall.


So, which blue, green, yellow, orange, red or neutral is right? I like what Kathie Engelbrecht (Perkins & Will 'The Impact of Color on Learning') had to say... "The variety of nuances does not dilute the amazing power of color on humans & it's ability to enhance our experience of the learning environment."


When dealing with colour in any environment we are always creating an atmosphere. The challenge of developing a unique & functioning palette for an educational application is a wonderful opportunity to develop something meaningful. As I said in the beginning... here function trumps aesthetics. The fashion world just has to get over it!


This article was contributed by Sylvia O'Brien, Creative Director of Colour Theory, a Toronto (Canada) based commercial colour & design firm.

Her motto is "Colour...get it right the first time ".

She can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or through


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