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August 3, 2022

The Impact and Importance of Colour in Public Spaces

Colour is an integral factor of public spaces. It sets the tone and ambience for the space, and evokes an emotion or reaction in users. Colour can positively and negatively influence moods and behaviours, and “has the single greatest effect on how people perceive designs”, which is why it’s so important to get the composition of colour right in a public space.


“What is the colour of your favourite public place?” This is the question asked by Galyna McLellan and Mirko Guaralda at the Queensland University of Technology for their study Exploring Environmental Colour Design in Urban Contexts. Unsurprisingly, most people in the study were confused by and struggled to respond to the question. How often do we go to a space and actively think about the colour? The fact that we don’t think about it can mean that it’s often overlooked in the design process. However, a truly effective public space is one where the colour is used in a way that complements and evokes the desired mood, without being so obtuse that users are forced to notice it.


Colour is a sensory stimulus that evokes a psychological response and can affect human behaviour. An excessive amount of colours, oversaturation and strong contrasts can cause feelings of overwhelm and anxiety, while monochromatic settings with a lack of contract and visual cues may cause depression and excessive emotional responses. Different colours can also have different implications depending on cultures and beliefs. For example, white in many western cultures is associated with peace and purity, while in some Asian cultures it is associated with death and mourning. Additionally, the way the elderly see colours can be very different to those in younger demographics and means that special consideration must be taken for spaces that are more frequented with the frail aged. When considering the colour palette for a public space, it’s important to use the concepts of Placemaking to understand the needs of the space and its role in the community.


For the public space project at Logan Gardens Water Park, QLD, Grillex was tasked with supplying a range of street furniture in colours that were significant to the community. Table settings, benches, park seats and shelters were powder coated in colours that were of importance to the original owners of the land, the Yagara people, and the tops of the table settings were coloured to match different world flags, representing the vibrant multicultural community of Logan City. In this way, the colour of the space directly reflected and emphasised the culture and values of the local community. Check out Grillex’s full colour catalogue here.


Colour can also be used to create or enhance a spatial theme. For example, public space solutions at a beach will often lean into ocean-themed designs: the park may include furniture in ocean-inspired colours of blue and yellow; the playground may feature colours and designs inspired by ocean flora and fauna, such as bright oranges, pinks and yellows; and public restrooms may carry the theme with walls painted with depictions of waves. The use of colour to enhance the beachside theme can ensure that the feelings of joy and tranquillity that the beach can bring to patrons are continued, even when a person isn’t on the water.


Colour can be used to evoke a sensation that entices communities to take action. McDonald’s iconic red and yellow branding is intentional according to colour psychology expert Karen Heller, “Red triggers stimulation, appetite, hunger, it attracts attention. Yellow triggers the feelings of happiness and friendliness [and is the most visible colour in daylight]. When you combine red and yellow it’s about speed, quickness. In, eat and out again.” These colours trigger the dopamine effect when seen and entice people to feel hungry, come in, eat a quick meal, and leave to let more people in. This theme is replicated in the McDonald’s outdoor playspaces, where the use of red and yellow encourages the kids to want to play but then to become hungry again and want to go back to eat more.


Colour is especially important in outdoor wayfinding. When in a busy outdoor public space, its integral that signage is clear and effective. Red is a powerful colour used to symbolise danger or warning and is easy to distinguish in a space. Its meaning is known globally and thus can cross language barriers. Cities typically create their own wayfinding colour scheme to distinguish between modes of public transportation, such as green for buses, blue for ferries, orange for trains, red for lightrail etc. This is established clearly with distinct signage, and is also replicated across social media and apps to ensure that people can quickly and easily find where they need to go.


Grillex understands the importance of colour in public spaces, and has an extensive colour catalogue available for all public furniture, BBQs and colourbond roofs. Custom colours can also be requested upon discussion. Check out the full catalogue here.