Behaviour / neuroscience Architecture DEI Inclusive design


For some, the choice of colour in a space or campaign might be a secondary concern or even a matter of taste. Colour Expert Justine Fox shares how colour should be given the same attention as copy on a page or furniture in a room, not only to share hidden meaning, but to reduce our carbon footprint.

20 February 2023 • 4 min read | Freepik

At present, I am in the process of manoeuvring myself away from pure colour trend forecasting. What really interests me is exploring colour beyond aesthetic, assessing more of the functional and psychological aspects of colour and how we use it. I want to explore how we go beyond the decorative – how we can use it to give people equitable access, to drive social value and to accelerate sustainability.

I frequently work with architects and brand agencies to hone in on these elements in three key ways: through talks, workshops, or pure consultancy. I’ve also spoken at conferences and exhibitions around the world including Clerkenwell Design Week and Design London. The key challenge I’ve been experiencing in the industries I work across, and what’s changing them, is purpose. People are no longer happy to simply do a brand campaign to drive sales or to have a house that simply houses people. There has to be a reason behind it all – a purpose. The work or intervention we make should have a positive impact on people and minimal or positive impact on the environment.

Previously, I worked with people who were in marketing departments developing colour trends as a way
to raise profile and drive sales. But now, we ask ourselves, what is the point of this?

What value are we adding? This isn’t necessarily driven by the architects and the designers themselves, but by government bodies, local authorities, or the client or customers themselves. My job is to understand how to use forecasting and insights to find purpose, to make spatial design and communications more useful and effective for consumers.

Legislative change has a big part to play here. And to a further extent, it’s driven by the consumer themselves. Consumers want something better in the products they’re buying. Finding that purpose means we make our work effective, efficient, understood and sustainable.


Ultimately, sustainability is key to all our core stakeholders. It’s a way of thinking. How can we use colour to augment some of this sustainable performance? Within building design, a lot of the retrofits in London (and the country at large) – have been gentrified by the aesthetically-led creative elite – and perhaps subsequently painted black for example. But this adds several degrees of more heat absorption as a consequence, just by the colour that you use. You’re adding to the urban heat islands, and you’re exacerbating that issue, which can then lead to an increase in air conditioning, for example. Designers will need to think more carefully about the colours they’re selecting and why. What’s the impact on carbon emissions, both digitally and physically? How much space does it need? And what about packaging? How can we constantly drive those things down? Before, going paperless was the most ecological way to go. We now know that that’s not necessarily true.

We need to think about how these colours are produced. I think it’s important to bring in the possibilities presented by bio fabrication in our processes, for example bacterial dyeing. PILI, the French bacterial dye house (1), has had massive investment from the French government to take this to scale. It’s based on a fermentation, so you brew the colour in the same way you would do with beer.

In the UK we have another leader in this developing field called Colorifix. It reduces the amount of water that you use. You can see now that we’re able to get this proper spectral palette, which could lead to all kinds of more sustainable options.


With the global economic forecasts coming in for the next 18 months, everybody – brands, architects, developers – is looking for more and more efficiencies.

This can boil down to understanding how colour can help with something, such as getting buildings through planning departments more quickly, and understanding the specific language to use. Bringing colour expertise into projects, especially now, can speed up processes by making sure that not only are you specifying the right colour and material finish for the application, and that forms a cohesive harmony, but that the way you speak about a colour can bring on board clients and local authorities.

If we take a butterfly’s wing, and the way that its colour shifts around, you can have this really beautiful movement within colour. There’s this amazing brand called The Unseen Beauty (2) that just launched the first colour changing hair dye. It is all based on structural colour. You can do structural colour using cellulose based plastics and polymer opals, so it doesn’t always have to be madly fossil fuel based.

Structural colour is part of the biofabrication point. The sensation of colour is being created by refraction of light as it bounces off the nano structure of these surfaces. It has huge possibilities not only in brand communications and product, but in the way that we build our world and create ‘digital’ movement in an environmental real-world way.


Really understanding how we can make people feel through our design requires emotional intelligence, understanding human emotions and how to express them in the best way. We can really leverage this with colour to create a positive or enhanced experience for people. It’s now about whether a space or a brand is giving an added educational aspect to it, or a playfulness, for example. It’s about understanding that what we do as a designer has a real emotional impact on the people who are using it and the people who connect with it. It’s also about understanding the environmental impact. I think this will become increasingly important in the industry.

Colour is the first attribute that our brains process when we encounter a brand. It’s the way we read a space. So when we come into a room, we read it via the ceiling, we understand space through it. Colour is at the heart of our human experience and its transformational qualities have the potential to change the way we work in design. It is such a huge tool that’s still underutilised. And there is so much more we are yet to be able to do with it.


(1) ‘French Startup to Produce Sustainable Textile Dyes Using Microbes.’, Clara Rodríguez Fernández,

(2) Lauren Bowker, Founder, THE UNSEEN,

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