Picture this scenario. You are in a movie theatre, suddenly the lights go off and the fire alarm starts ringing. There are two doors in front of you, one with a red light over it and one with a green light. You will run towards which door? Most of you will say green, some might say Red. That's totally fine.
Now tell me this, which color do you associate with emergency? Think about it for a moment. Red, right?
But then why when faced with an emergency situation, people tend to trust green? Well, it has more to do with psychology aspects of colors.
The red color is associated with energy and danger which reflects chaos (the one thing that we don’t want in a crisis). We are trained to recognize red as ‘stop’, so in an emergency situation it might create confusion. Whereas green color is related to safety and ‘go’, clearly instructing the public to remain calm and follow the signs.
Another reason is that fluorescent green can be seen better than other colors from a distance or in a dark environment. Also, red is actually the least visible color from a distance. Human rod cells are more sensitive towards the wavelength of green color than red. (Why then red is used in traffic signals? Because it stands so prominently against all types of greens)
This is why public buildings have green emergency signs. Some of your surrounding buildings might have red for emergency exits. Especially if you live in the US. An interesting research was conducted by Max Kinatedera, William H. Warren, and Karen B. Schloss on 24 participants. It suggested that color inferences are determined by color psychology and not by what we experience in our local environment.
This means if you simulate a fire evacuation scenario, people will run towards the green door irrespective of the color of exit sign in their local environment. But, when asked what color do they associate with emergency, the answer is likely to be red! Huh? What the heck?
Even users don't know how they will behave
The dissociation between how users behave in a situation and how they think they will behave is rather fascinating. Even observers, and perhaps designers, do not always anticipate how users will behave in a particular situation.
People don’t know what they want until you show it to them — Steve Jobs
Or in our case, ‘until you give them a situation’. This is what makes UX more challenging, more fun. How simple and boring it would have been if we could easily analyze how someone will behave in a particular situation. Human beings are not so predictable and that is the beauty of it. Coming back to the topic.
Isn't there a standard color for egress?
Actually no. As per NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) 101 and OSHA (Operational Safety And Health Administration), any color that is distinctive and contrasts with the background is acceptable. So yes you can get away with anything, but that is not what design is about. Right?
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