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April 9, 2016

Green, blue and yellow walls have nothing to do with school colors. It’s psychology and science.

Sky blue, butter yellow and rejuvenating green are replacing white walls at Johnson County Community College. The change isn’t merely cosmetic. It also affects how students feel, interact and learn in these spaces.

Kathryn Grube, assistant professor of interior design, suggested the changes to the college’s classroom and office color palettes. In a presentation to the JCCC deans’ council in Fall 2015, Grube shared 100 years of research on how color affects the body both psychologically and physiologically.

“This isn’t a new science,” Grube said. “Health care, restaurants and hospitality spaces have known and practiced for years known how color affects the customer, and they’ve implemented proper color design.”

Three colors were chosen for classroom and office walls at JCCC. Each color has a hue a shade darker to use for an accent wall or “teaching wall.”

“By painting it a shade darker, we are drawing the eye forward, and we’re helping students to be able to concentrate on the front of the room,” she said. “The change in color from the front wall to the other walls also allows for some visual variety, which is important when you are trying to maintain attention.”

Accent walls can be another color of the trio, too, such as a one blue wall in a yellow room.

Grube published four scholarly articles on the use of color in the classroom, including, “Why Don’t We Have Colored Walls in Our Classroom?” and “Detrimental Effects of White Values in the Classroom.” 

She won the JCCC 2015 Publications Award for her research and began working with Campus Services to adopt shades of color best suited for an academic environment.

“The struggle with color is that it’s seen as a preference. ‘I like orange, I don’t like violet’…but human beings are 60 to 70 percent water. We react to things in nature: blue skies, yellow sunshine, green plants and trees. We need sensory variety in our natural surroundings and also in our interior spaces,” she said.

Colors need to be used strategically, Grube explained, especially in classrooms. Studies have shown that certain colors, in just the right shade, can increase academic performance, productivity and morale. Color can even reduce absenteeism and have a positive influence on health, behavior and emotions.

Here’s a run-down on JCCC’s new colors selected from Sherwin Williams palettes:

  • Base color: Vast Sky. Darker shade: Resolute Blue. Soothing colors, promoting focus and trust. Great for computer labs, as it resists screen glare. Also helpful for test takers, as the colors reduce blood pressure and anxiousness.
  • Base color: Jonquil. Darker shade: Afternoon. Luminous but warm yellow, promoting stimulation and cheerfulness. Great for interior rooms, as it provides a bit of “sunshine.” Also helpful for stimulating mental activity and promoting memory.
  • Base color: Easy Green. Darker shade: Nurture Green. Calming and refreshing, these shades are often used in hospitals for their healing effects. Green is the color “most restful to the human eye,” Grube reported, relaxing muscles and deepening breathing.

A key component in achieving these results lies in lighting, so Grube has been working with Campus Services and the Center for Sustainability to find the right light.

“Artificial lighting is extremely important. See what mean?” she said, gesturing to a green wall of a GEB computer lab. A black filing cabinet sat in the middle of the wall. One side resembled mint-chocolate-chip ice cream. The other looked like limp green salad. “That’s the same paint,” Grube said. “The only difference is the lighting.”

Grube said she’s excited to see the palette expand across campus as things need repainting. (Currently, 30 classrooms have been upgraded to color.)  "It will be a gradual process, she said, but the good thing is that the colored paint does not cost any more than the standard JCCC white that has been used in the past." 

While the colors may closely resemble the hues found in JCCC’s petal logo, the science and psychology of color, not school spirit, was the motivating factor.


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