Is Your Client Chromophobic?

Karen Haller 01
Karen Haller

Is your client chromophobic

If you’re an architect, interior designer, or in fact any design professional, then September in London means one thing – London Design Week. This year I was honoured to be asked to help co-curate the four colour talk programme at 100% Design.

Other than the two times I was on stage taking part in talks myself, I was sitting front row for most of the other speakers. We had such a high-calibre line up of colour experts, I really wanted to soak up what they had to say.

One talk I was really excited to hear was called ‘What’s Wrong with White’ where a panel examined how colour is used in architecture. Posing the question Do architects suffer from chromophobia, with many avoiding it, or applying it as an afterthought?

On the panel was architect David Hills, who favours white, the artist/designer Morag Myerscough, an avid colour lover, and contemporary artist David Batchelor, who in his book Chromophobia says that in Western culture, colour has often been treated as corrupting, foreign or superficial.

And their discussion got me thinking about just how widespread chromophobia really is and whether it’s something that’s impacting our work with our interior design clients too?

What is Chromophobia?
Chromophobia is the fear of colour. It goes far beyond a colour’s visual appearance.

Some people may just avoid a certain colour or a particular tone, whilst others can’t bear to be around colour, refusing to wear it or have it in their home to the point where they become quite distressed.

A couple of years ago I worked on a project for a major UK homewares brand. After analysing research data we had commissioned we discovered that a startling 75 per cent of the UK population is more concerned with creating a home that others will love, rather than a home that actually represents their own tastes and personality…” [1]

This reveals how deep our fear of our own colour choices really is. We are so worried what other people will think of our colour choices, we choose colours we think others will like.

Maybe you’ve come across this when your client keeps rejecting your colour schemes, but won’t tell you the colours they actually like, or they keep changing their mind on the colours they want to use. Have you had a client like that?

Fear of colour is more common than you think

No one is immune from feeling chromophobia. It can happen to any of us. It even happened to me.

During my applied colour psychology training I realised I didn’t like yellow. In fact I hated yellow so much I used to say just call me Karen ‘I hate yellow’ Haller. I was asked many times why I hated yellow and I just didn’t know why.

Then one day it dawned on me. As a child and adolescent I was sent to my room, a lot. And the colour of the furniture in my bedroom was canary yellow.

Once I had come to that realisation I was able to separate the event from the colour as I had attached a not so happy memory, ironically, to the colour that psychologically conveys the positive meaning of happy!

I remember going to Jane Norman, seeing the cutest yellow bikini and buying it! Yellow is now one of my favourite colours!

So the good news is, even if your client is chromophobic, they don’t have to stay that way.

The first thing to do is discover why they are chromophobic – because if you don’t, you’ll just keep getting your clients repeating “I don’t like that colour” and rejecting all your colour schemes.

After nearly a decade of working with clients on branding, interior projects and just about anything to do with colour, I’ve been able to narrow down the root of their colour fears to three main things:

  1. It could stem from a cultural significance. From what a colour symbolises within a specific culture. For example, in China white symbolises bereavement, mourning and is considered bad luck so you would avoid creating white interiors which is a popular trend in Western interiors. 
  1. They have a personal association, a particular memory, often negative, that they have attached to the colour. For example my earlier story with the colour yellow.
  1. They don’t like the way a colour makes them feel or behave (colour psychology). For example, your client might love the colour grey and have a grey bedroom, but find they wake up tired. Or someone might avoid the colour red because it makes them feel really uncomfortable or agitated.

Once you’ve identified where your client’s chromophobia stems from, your client will see their fear of colour lift, and they’ll be able to start reconnecting back to their innate love of colour, making choosing colour fun again, meaning you’ll be able to put together a colour scheme that reflects their true authentic personality.

Over to you
Have you had a similar experience with a client? Would you like to know how to breeze through chromophobic blocks? Then stay tuned for my upcoming webinar where I will be sharing more on how you can help your clients break free of their fear of colour so they can love it again – and you can feel confident about turning any client into a colour convert.

Free colour training
If you’d like to know more, sign up to my mailing list to make sure you don’t miss out on this valuable free training.


p.s. when you sign up to my mailing list you’ll also receive a copy of my e-book ‘The 10 Myths that Limit You using Colour Effectively‘.


[1] 2013 research carried out by Karen Haller & ColourMatch from Argos

Share the knowledge



Leave a Comment