When designing the look and feel of a new office, it is important to consider how colour palettes used within workplace environments can make a difference to the level of comfort and spatial awareness experienced by the staff and visitors.
Visual contrast between surfaces and features in a building is important to assist people with visual impairments to navigate safely around the workplace, and to identify features and potential obstacles.
The use of contrasting colours is an effective tool to assist with interpretation of a physical environment, for example, the choice of colours walls and floors can assist individuals with visual impairments determine depth and space more easily. Effective visual contrast promotes visual clarity, orientation, and the perception of space.
The following tools can be used to help determine visual contrasts:
The most commonly recommended solution to measuring contrast is by a surface’s light reflectance value (LRV) such as walls, floors, ceilings and doors. The LRV is a measure of the amount of light that a surface reflects and is represented by a scale from 0 to 100; where 0 represents a fully absorbing surface (black) and 100 a fully reflecting surface (white).
Shown here is a chart of LRV’s ranging from 0% to 100% in four different colours.
These ceramics show LRV’s at work. They have a high LRV, and are sitting on a surface with low LRV.
Shown is an office environment built with the recommend light reflectance values in mind. The recommended LVR ranges for floor surface colours should fall between zero to 30 percent. Solid walls, glazed walls with frostings, and signage and door colours should fall between 30 to 90 percent LRV. Ceiling colours should fall between 90 to 100 percent LRV.
Natural landscapes and cultural heritage help create the aesthetic backdrop of the national identity. A variety of these colours also revolved around blue, particularly from sea and sky, as well as rich greens and reds. Extending beyond communications material, stationary, and digital platforms, these colours can be applied to elements within the built environment, imbuing workspaces with a reflection of Aotearoa.
In order to help people with visual impairment to experience the size of a space they have entered, and to find their way around, there should be a visual contrast between adjacent surfaces. Attention to surface finishes with good natural and artificial lighting design should be applied in accordance with the Government Building Performance specification.
Plain surfaces, or a small pattern using complementary colours, are preferred for surface finishes. Avoid the use of patterns on large surface areas such as floors and walls as they can be visually confusing and may make it difficult for people to identify potential obstacles and changes in level. On the floor, the use of stripes should be avoided as these can be perceived as the edge of a step and become a trip hazard.
The following guidance provides examples for achieving colour contrast within the office environment.
There should be a visual contrast between the wall and the ceiling to help people with a visual impairment to navigate the size of a space they have entered, and to help find their way around. It is assumed in most cases that the ceiling will be tiled and coloured white with an LRV of 90-100%, therefore walls adjoining the ceiling should, for example, have a maximum LRV rating of no more than 70%.
Wall-to-wall contrast is recommended where colour is being utilised as a tool to assist wayfinding. In this instance, wall colours can provide visual contrast to each other, in addition to contrasting to ceilings, and other fittings such as signs, floors and doors.
It is recommended a colour gradient difference is applied between two adjacent surfaces of no less than 30%. For large areas, a difference in the LRV of 20% or more is acceptable, provided the illuminance on the surfaces is in accordance with government Building Performance specification.
The following guidance should be applied to make signage visible within the wider office environment:
Full height glazed walls can present a potential danger when mistaken for open doorways, while in enclosed office meeting rooms, privacy also needs to be considered. Therefore, the recommended range for full height glazed walls is 800mm-1600mm. Any markings should contrast visually with the background surfaces viewed through the door in both directions and in all lighting conditions. The use of two-tone markings often improves visibility. Signage used to identify the room should be clearly legible and contrast with a glass door. It is a requirement under the building code that the presence of glass is clearly highlighted so it does not present a significant hazard to building users.
Visual contrast should be provided between a door, the wall and floor when the door is in a closed position. If there is not sufficient visual contrast between these elements, or if both elements are of a similar luminance, it will be difficult for visually impaired people to distinguish the difference. For door handles, a difference in the LRV of 15% between the handles and its door is recommended.
Loose furniture can be moved around the office space to suit the environment such as breakout spaces, soft furniture and pods. It is recommended:
It is recommended a visual colour contrast of at least 30% LRV be applied between the wall and the floor areas to assist visually impaired people navigate spatial arrangements of the room. Patterns on walls should be limited to artworks or feature walls.
Bold patterns or geometric designs on floors are not recommended as these can create visual stimulus overload for people with various impairments and make it more difficult to navigate the environment. Additionally, hard, shiny surfaces such as tiles can be difficult for workers who use crutches or walking sticks. When specifying two different floor finishes within one space, for example vinyl and carpet, reference should be made to the manufacturers written LRV rating to ensure both have an equal or similar rating. Visual contrast between adjoining or adjacent floors is not recommended as this can be perceived as a change in height or void in the flooring. Essentially two adjacent flooring types can be different colours but contain similar LRVs of +/-10%.
It is important to note that carpets with LRV results greater than 15% will need a correspondingly very high level of cleaning maintenance in an office environment. It is recommended that a carpet’s LRV does not exceed 15% and vinyl finishes do not exceed 25%.