Exploration: Interior Color and Lighting

Photo from: http://design-4-lessblog.com/2010/04/21/recycled-leather-tiles/
Photo from: http://design-4-lessblog.com/2010/04/21/recycled-leather-tiles/

Commercial spaces have the widest variety of people coming through them. All of these people have physical, mental, and emotional needs. Although most of them may not realize it, color can play a huge part in whether or not they feel that these needs are being met. To further explore and observe the use of color in commercial spaces and the way it makes people feel, I visited some commercial locations. Starbucks surprised me the most!

This is a place I, like most Americans, am familiar with. I went through the drive through every day in January to get my free coffee and I spent many hours there during the months that I didn’t have any other way to access the internet. It’s safe to say I know this brand. If you had asked me what colors are used in the space before I visited for this purpose, I would’ve answered correctly, but I was surprised at how little color they actually use. The color palette is full of dark neutrals. There is a lot of brown, a lot of wood, and some grey. The only true color is a rich burgundy that spans across the back wall in the baristas’ work space.

When I walk into Starbucks, I feel calm, warm, and ready to drink coffee. It feels luxurious. I noticed that I am more likely to order a fancier drink if I walk inside, while if I go through the drive through my mind is on the cheapest, most effective option: drip. My theory is that this is the purpose of the use of colors. They designed it to make you want to drink coffee… expensive, delicious coffee. How convenient! These people know exactly what they are doing. They are trying to appeal to the younger crowd that has grown up with the acceptance of four dollar cups of coffee, like me, but also to my father’s generation, people that have been working hard for years and have found an escape in the warm community that Starbucks seems to foster. My father loves Starbucks like no one else I know. He goes there every single day. The baristas know him, his friends, and they know all about me. So what is it that Starbucks does to make the place feel like a sort of home to both a young person and someone who is nearing sixty years of age? A big factor is the lighting. To me it feels dark, safe, and comfortable. I was surprised to see that it is actually a fully lit space. In addition to floor to ceiling windows on two of the four walls, there are lights everywhere. They are stylish, non-fluorescent lights, but bright lights nonetheless. I never would have noticed this if I hadn’t visited for this purpose. The use of so many rich colors tones the lights down so well that I didn’t even notice they were there. Well done, Starbucks.

For me and my dad, and for many other Americans, Starbucks makes us feel happy and comfortable. This makes sense, as the colors used are widely accepted as being associated with warmth and happiness. Not only does this contemporary space meet our physical needs, but our emotional ones as well.


2 thoughts on “Exploration: Interior Color and Lighting

  1. Hi Brianne. I spent more than 10 years freelancing myself, so best wishes on that journey!

    I agree that color and lighting are critical for their effects on people, but you also point to their use of wood, and I agree. There is another coffee chain that just got bought up and had its stores reduced — Caribou Coffee. Their stores are designed like a hunting lodge, and they have wood everywhere, usually along with a fireplace somewhere. Memory tells me the wood was a little lighter than what you show in your Starbucks image, but the place definitely felt warmer because it removed some of the colder modern style by having more wood.

    So I definitely feel that natural elements, including lighting and color if they can promote a natural feel, resonate with something non-verbal, deep inside us. And when you feel safe, when you trust, when some level of your worries have slipped to one side, I believe it’s easier to open your wallet and pay for product.

    This doesn’t apply to every setting of course. An Apple store looks modern for a reason — people want modern technology when they visit it. It’s not supposed to be warm and fuzzy. And here you build trust in a completely different way.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment! I really enjoyed reading it. I completely agree that the natural feel can resonate with something deep inside us. I think they are probably well aware of this, and you make a great point about being more willing to open our wallets when we feel safe. And you add another interesting point about building trust in a different way when it comes to technology!

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