Why Your Event's Color Scheme Matters More Than You Think

The color palette of your event is more than just decor—it affects how your guests feel about your brand.

By Ellen Sturm Niz April 21, 2014, 7:00 AM EDT

Photos: Vero Image (yellow), Nadia Chaudhury/BizBash (orange), Andre Maier (red), Tony Brown/imijphoto.com for BizBash (all others)

Have you ever walked into an event and felt instantly transported? It’s the music, it’s the lighting, it’s the color. More than just decor, the color of the lights, flowers, furniture, linens, and even food at an event have a psychological effect. “Colors and color combinations create moods and feelings, consciously and unconsciously,” says Kate Smith, president and chief color expert at Sensational Color, a color consulting firm in Ashburn, Virginia. “Whether we realize it or not, color affects us and our decision-making.”

Tying the psychological effect of a color to an event’s purpose or mood can increase the likelihood that attendees will get the right message, and different colors have definitive effects. In general, blue, the color of water and the sky, is calming, Smith says: “It taps into our bodies and hormones and lowers our heart rate and slows respiration.” Red, on the other hand, is exciting. “It raises blood pressure and can even make palms sweat,” Smith says. “It’s revving us up—think fast cars, sexy women. It’s bolder, aggressive, and showy, the color of both love and anger.”

Last year, AOL used color psychology when retooling its corporate event message. “AOL is a really colorful brand,” says Stacy Lambatos, director of corporate events at the company, “but last year we decided we wanted to simplify the brand to our B-to-B market. We thought, ‘We are the biggest digital media company headquartered in New York City,’ so we wanted to be big and bold and simple and put the raw grittiness of New York into our look. Black and white resonated with us and what we wanted to communicate.”

Those colors carry through all of AOL’s B-to-B marketing initiatives, and from an event standpoint, the palette helps them focus on other elements, Lambatos says. “Black and white allows us to experiment with digital technology and screens and engage [our attendees] with our technology, our platforms, and our content.”

Event planner Jes Gordon of Jes Gordon/ProperFun also uses color at events for more than just decor. “The psychology of color plays a lot into our design stories, particularly in the corporate world where it’s usually about the company logo color, but obviously they had a lot of psychological backstory into making that original decision about the logo itself,” Gordon says. For events where corporate logos are not a factor, Gordon uses color to set the mood. “For many of our social events like weddings we tend to work with ethereal lighting like a frosted white light during the ceremony portion of the wedding, then work into deeper, more saturated party tones for the reception.”

Smith advises being clear about your event’s message and using ­color to support it, just like every other element. “When you’re creating an event, the purpose is more than just looking good,” Smith says. “It’s creating something that you want to be memorable, and the color will help cement the message in guests’ minds.”

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