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The Art, Science, and Consequences of Playground Color Schemes

If we need a hammer drill, would we go to a furniture store?  How about a suit or a dress?  Would we go to Best Buy?  We wouldn’t go to GameStop for a ping pong table no more than we’d go to an appliance store to buy a watch or a purse or makeup or shoes or … okay, you get the picture.   

What if there was a store like that?  Well … there was and it was called Sears.  One of the biggest reasons Sears ceased to exist is that they became everything and nothing at the same time.  Sears lost it’s identity because, according to George Troy, author of the Five Laws of Retail, upper management focused on financial shell games to enrich themselves personally and to appear successful in the short term.  They profited, but at the cost of killing Sears.

Back in the 1980’s Pepsi’s marketing department launched the Pepsi Challenge.  Pepsi vs Coca Cola in a blind taste test and guess what; most people picked Pepsi.  Great for marketing, but here’s the problem; it was a one-sip test.  Pepsi was much sweeter than Coke and in the short term, our senses loved it.  In the long-term though, too sweet is just too sweet and people went back to Coca Cola.  Even today, Coca Cola is worth $65-Billion more than Pepsi, even though Pepsi is a much larger company with many more different brands.  Hmm.      

When we mix all the paint colors together on a palette, we don’t get an explosion of color.  Instead, we get a drab, gray sludge.  Some colors and various shades of those colors are more colorful than other colors.  Individual colors can compliment other colors, making each even more vivid.  Doing this strategically makes the whole more colorful.

At the back of a Playground catalog, there’s a color palette with examples of playground designs in different mixes of colors and they’re brilliant.  There’s an art and science to it, but many years ago, I got the idea that I was smarter than that and created a playground with various colors that I picked.  Looking back on it, it was like pushing Bob Ross aside, while slapping various paints onto the canvas.  I had no idea what I was doing and when I saw the finished product, I realized I created a gray sludge with no artistic theme or identity.  All of the individual colors lost their value.

Sears tried to be everything to everybody and became nothing to nobody.  Pepsi won the battle but lost the war.  Well they’re not exactly losing by any stretch, but you get the analogy.

Instead, consider the audience.  What does this playground design mean in this space, in this community, in this park?  What are we trying to accomplish?  Narrow that down and get real focused on the “why”.  Is it about nature and outdoors, is it about a colorful wow factor, is there a theme to this area that relates to certain colors? 

Maybe there isn’t any of that, but in any case, going to a color palette that was designed by a trained and experienced expert is probably the best way to go.  They know color schemes and how certain colors affect other colors, creating an identity for each design so that it will engage with the human spirit.

Otherwise, we might get an unappealing gray sludge with no identity and no staying power.

Photo by Chaewon Lee on Unsplash

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