The Colour of Software Development

I was intrigued by this article in the New York Times. In brief, it reviews some tests on the relationship between colour and cognitive performance, and highlights the ways in which the brain is affected by colour in the environment. For example studies seem to suggest that exposure to the colour red promotes accuracy, attention to detail, and fact recall, whereas a blue environment promotes creative thinking and imagination.

Yellow seems to make people eat more food. Go figure.

I have a weak spot for studies like this. I recall reading of one that demonstrated quite convincingly that creativity in finding an elegant solution to a software development problem was stifled by the playing of music through headphones. How many developers do we know who do just that very thing, albeit it in many cases to drown out the babble of the marketing department that they are colocated with? That’s workplace creativity being strangled, that is.

What I find interesting about this colour study is that two desirable aspects of the software development process — creativity and accuracy — are apparantly promoted by different colours, and these aspects are also desirable at different stages in the development cycle.

Designing an ETL process? Creativity … get yourself in the blue room, and those intuitive leaps that suddenly simplify the whole process will flow naturally to your pen. Implementing the design as code? Red room for you, and you’ll be focused on syntax and detail, with fewer bugs and faster development.

And keep yellow out of the work place. The sedentary office life and donuts in the morning are already our worst enemy.

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10 thoughts on “The Colour of Software Development

  1. Yeah! I’ll think about these colors when painting my walls next time. :D

    Sometime ago I heard a history that the McDonald’s colors was selected because of that psicology.

  2. I’ve heard that McDonalds thing also, about the walls being red so that people move on quickly. Mind you we have some pretty nice McDonalds around here — it’s a pretty classy place (in Aylesbury). Maybe they realised that the most powerful motive force is not the colour but the sound of your kids getting hopped up on greasy carbohydrates and sugars. “Time to go!”.

    What if you just had some large pieces of blue and red paper that you stuck on the wall of your cube at the appropriate time? I’d really like to try that. Or force someone else to try that. And I wonder what effect the usual corporate cube colours grey and beige have on the brain, other than promoting the feeling that Friday is too far away.

  3. It says “Participants performed tasks with words or images displayed against red, blue or neutral backgrounds on computer screens”, so just set your screensaver/wallpaper or IDE theme. Or get retro banker/accountant eyeshades in blue or red instead of green! Maybe the color could be linked right to the phase of the development plan and time-schedule…

  4. Those are fine ideas. Or … you could have a nice soothing recording of a lady murmuring the word “blue” into your headphones for Phase 1, and contrast that with a guy screaming “RED! RED! RED!” when you’re coding. That should be their next study for sure.

  5. You hit on one of my undergraduate studies. Loomis and Jacobs were two of my professors, Jacobs was already famous for cat vision studies in the 60’s, I was the only undergrad in one of his color seminars, (I gave a report on gold) Loomis was a nervous newbie, but very good.

    I distinctly remember the awful puke-green colors of my elementary school, that was all based on misapplication of WWII research IIRC.

    There’s a commercial on US TV that shows two hyperactive kids running into a room that mom and dad are painting with cool relaxing colors, kids immediately going lobotomized. If only :-)

  6. I don’t remember a thing about that report, other than the fear of presenting it. I might have it buried in my basement, though.

    • I thought that was what happened after a week-long coke bender. And the thing that usually winds up getting buried is the postman you shot because you thought he was ghost of Frank Zappa and the you call your brother up cause he borrowed your shovel and he asks why you needed it and you say you shot the ghost of Frank Zappa and he says, your postman has been missing for 3 days and starts to put 2 and 2 together and then comes over and starts crying… yeh, good times. what were we talking about.

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