The science of color

The use of color to draw out emotions, encourage reactions and create intentional experiences is, of course, a fundamental consideration when designing a hotel. Over the past few years this has been taken a step further, with the “science” of color becoming a trend, as seen with the Pantone Hotel in Brussels, where not only are the guestroom levels individually color-coded, all the accessories have been labeled with specific Pantone references as well.

Advances in technology are also pushing this growing interest in color theory. A while back I blogged about the hotel nHow Berlin designed by Karim Rashid. Here, he has boldly explored the relationship between music and color by interpreting sound waves into vibrantly powerful shapes and patterns.

At JOI-Design, the science of color is a topic that is dear to our hearts, since in fact my wife and business partner, Corinna Kretschmar-Joehnk, has just published a book with color theory guru Professor Axel Venn about its use in hospitality environments. 

As the first book of its kind, “Colours for Hotels” unravels the instinctual associations made between words, feelings, shapes and colors to provide insight into the way this synaesthesia shapes the atmosphere of hotels. Rather than blatantly promote the book, I’d like to explain why Corinna wrote it and how it could help hoteliers, as well as designers and architects, create specific experiences.

As interior designers, we have often found that civil engineers have no problem arguing about buildings since they always have facts at hand to support their opinions. And designers’ arguments of “like” and “don’t like” are not the strongest lines of reasoning during these discussions!

We found at least a partial solution for this when we met Professor Venn, a scientific expert in color physiology and psychology who has published several studies about these topics. Inevitably our discussion turned to hotel design and, eventually, to the idea of creating a color-coded palette that corresponds to assorted types of hotels — as well as providing a foundation for some of our debates with civil engineers!

The book’s empirical data was obtained through a series of test groups involving a wide range of ages, personalities and professions. Using a lexicon of adjectives selected for their tendency to evoke emotional responses, such as “comfortable,” “fairytale-like,” “luxurious,” “sophisticated” and “nonconformist,” participants translated their feelings about the phrases by painting watercolor shades and patterns within individual squares. Using his proprietary software, Professor Venn analyzed each sample one by one, objectively assessing the hues, shapes and percentage of color value in each image. These findings were then collated according to the strong correlations between specific colors and words. The original paintings and their analyses are depicted in the book alongside their resulting RAL color codes. Together, these compilations are called “JOI-Colours.” Corinna researched examples of hotels that, as illustrated through photos, express these adjectives.

The final result is that the reader has a large color database; a double-sided template with cut-out grids to further explore color combinations; case studies of these colors as used in hotels; and their RAL reference codes so the exact shades can be ordered directly from a paint shop, graphic designer, furniture manufacturer, signage company, etc.

Sorry if this post has ended up sounding a bit like an advertisement! My only excuse is that we don’t earn any money from the book, but we have invested a lot of cash and time exploring this trend and creating its codified system. So who knows? Maybe one day hotels all around the world will have atmospheres shaped by JOI-Colours!