Do Color Quizzes Pass the Test?

Posted by on Apr 3, 2013 in Inspiration

Originally published in STIR®, a resource for color and creativity.


“Color personality”:  A helpful shortcut to your client’s ideal hues?
Or a time-wasting detour?

  • What new culinary craze are you dying to try?
  • What time of year do you feel the happiest?
  • It’s Friday night in a big city. Do you stay in or hit the town?
  • Which of the following guilty pleasures is most your style?


At the start of a residential project, many designers ask their clients a series of lifestyle questions. It’s often a reliable way to determine what design style makes sense for them. So I found it interesting when I saw the questions above in a color character quiz published by Fresh Home magazine. Maybe you’ve seen similar quizzes and were tempted to borrow a question or two for your clients?

But should design professionals who specialize in residential design use these tricks? Can knowing people’s favorite foods really tell us what colors they want on their walls or which furnishings suit their living rooms? I decided to find out by conducting an experiment with an eight-person focus group.

The participants took one of two surveys. One was the Fresh Home color character quiz, and the other was a Better Homes and Gardens color personality test. My goal was simply to see if the results tended toward accuracy. The overall outcome: Half the participants received results they believed were true, while the other half did not.

After answering questions as random as where they’d go on vacation and how they’d handle unexpected weekend guests, four of the participants came away with a color personality described as “Colorful Gray,” a palette of grays with varying undertones that can be paired with jewel tones. Out of those four, only one person did not approve of that answer: “I like gray, but I could never layer a room with a bunch of different grays. That would look depressing to me. I prefer to use more happy colors in my home like yellow, pink and orange.”

Another participant was initially a bit reluctant to accept her Colorful Gray result, but in the end it started to make sense to her: “I think I generally prefer more color. However, I was planning to use purple with white and silver accents in one of my rooms. Maybe the gray could be interpreted as silver?”

One other person, whose color personality came back as “Nautical Blues,” felt her result was way off. “I was described as liking vibrant and refreshing ocean blues. That’s not really me. I tend to like warm colors.”

In spite of the perceived mismatches, one participant felt her result was spot on. Her color character was “Refined Rustic,” with a fondness for natural and organic earth tones. This description falls completely in line with the browns, rusts and ambers she’s used throughout her home.

My take-away from this experiment: Asking a client only general lifestyle questions is not a reliable way to understand his or her ideal decorating palette. Color preferences can change over time and be influenced by current trends, and too many vague and abstract questions can muddle the overall color results.

As a color consultant, I’ve created a questionnaire of my own. My questions elicit a person’s associations with color and focus on the particular room being decorated. Here are a few examples:

  • What colors bring back fond childhood memories?
  • What activities take place in this room?
  • What words describe how you want your room to feel? For example: cozy, glam, retro, sleek.
  • Currently, what are your favorite colors?

Asking these and other targeted questions helps me consistently choose the right colors for my clients. I believe a more straightforward approach to color selection leaves little room for error.