The challenge with color is that everyone is allowed an opinion, disastrous as it may be.
Color is a fundamental element of design. Not only of space, but of the clothes we wear, the websites we visit, even the food we eat. It impacts our psychological, social, cultural, and physical reactions. It aids in relaxation as easily as it increases agitation. Color has the ability to make us think time is going by slower than it actually is. It is noted to be able to aid in getting our blood flowing. It offers no one universal reaction; to some green means means growth and strength, while to other it means envy. White palettes in healthcare settings can be perceived as clean and crisp, but they can also be felt as sterile and cold. Color is influenced by the light quality and source, the shape and size of its application, and the geography of the location. The bright values which complement the sunny California beaches may look like a plea for help against the drab grey skies of the Northwest.
It’s because of this that it’s so hard to find a good evidence based resource for selecting a color for desired application. So what is an architect to do when something in her gut says she should speak up about the yellow walls in the exam rooms or dark red chairs in the conference center? Furthermore, how does one correctly select a color or palette that may aid in the diagnosis and treatment of our fellow man?
The more I research, the more I learn how little evidence is out there. The best one can do is start with an idea and refine based on the program and objectives. There are, however, some general guidelines¹ to follow:
1. The place must be a dignified and respectful appearance while being attractive.
2. Selected colors must play a psychological and aesthetic role by promoting the healing process by guarding the physiological and psychological well being of the patient and being an aid in accurate medical diagnosis, surgery performance, and therapeutic rehabilitation. It must also enhance light, visual ergonomics, support orientation, supplying information, defining specific area, and improving working conditions through visual means.
3. Lighting must be chosen with respect of unction, psychological reinforcement, visual appeal, color rendition, and biological concerns.
Based on what I learned, I put together a chart of color guidelines as a place to start. While specific decisions cannot be made without attention to the program specifics of a project, it is a good place to start. At best there can only be recommendations for color selection. Countless evidence based design studies on color theory have determined that nothing can be actually determined.
color chart – click for full size
1. Tofle, Ruth Brent Ph.D. et al. Color In Healthcare Environments – A Research Report. Coalition for Health Environments Research. 2003.
2. Mythbusting: Colour Therapy – Evidence Based Design Journal
3. Bosch, Sheila J., Ph.D. et. al. The Application of color in Healthcare Settings. The Center for Heath Design. October 2012.