What Does Color Have to Do With Meeting Productivity? Everything

To stimulate thinking and creativity, make the most of these 5 color-palette pointers.

Remember the last time you planned a meeting in a room with bubble-gum pink walls? Chances are, you haven’t.

But University of Hawaii researcher Kalyan N. Meola knows that color has an effect on both physical and psychological well-being: Red light is stimulating—actually increasing our heart rates, respiration and blood pressure. Blue light has the opposite effect.

Because colors can affect meeting attendees’ moods and productivity, picking your palette can be just as important as selecting seating and snacks.

But don’t fear color, especially if your meeting’s purpose has a creative goal: brainstorming ideas for a new marketing campaign, crafting a strategy to reorganize the company or fleshing out a new brand offering, for instance.

Introducing color provides one of the quickest and simplest ways to create an environment that completely takes participants out of their typical work setting, freeing their imaginations to come up with and share new ideas.

Inspire, Yet Don’t Distract

There isn’t a lot of research in the area of color study, says Stephani Robson, Ph.D., a senior lecturer at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. But hands down, she says, the most productive environment is one that provides some degree of stimulation but not distraction.

“Colors can be contrasting—for interest—but should not be clashing or competing, which is distracting,” Robson says. She offers five tips for creating a meeting-productive palette.

  • Know your audience. Before you spin your color wheel, understand your group. For example, in North American culture, red carries quite a different meaning (dangerous and forbidden) than it does in Chinese culture (joy and luck).
  • Be practical. Pure white and pure black look sharp, but both colors show damage quickly, and white often feels sterile and cold. Instead, try either as an accent.
  • Add a little pop. Try more saturated colors—think bright—in breakout spaces and boardrooms to create high contrast.
  • Make time fly. There is some evidence that people think time passes faster in a red room versus a blue room.
  • Be on the leading edge: Right now at events, Robson says, the hot color trends include chocolate brown with accents of pale blue, ivory and metallic; neutrals, especially in gray; accents in lime green or rich purple; and an emphasis on geometric forms.

Keep in mind that people all respond to colors differently, Robson says. “That’s why you have to adjust for different demographics and events.” And, she adds, don’t forget lighting levels; lighting often leads meeting space designers “to lean toward warm neutrals—to keep shine to a minimum.”

And what about that bubble-gum pink? Feng shui experts anoint it for being amazingly soothing and therefore ideal for a networking cocktail hour after a long afternoon of brainstorming in a meeting space infused with vital oranges and fresh-feeling greens.