A well-crafted color palette can do wonders for a healthcare facility. The use of color and graphic images can align to the existing logo and symbolic color of the facility to achieve an overall visual aesthetic, while it can also elicit emotions and unique perceptions of space. It has an ability to calm or excite, can make a room appear smaller or more grandiose, or even trigger subconscious reactions. Color is the most vital, impactful and expressive design element in a designer’s toolbox.
Color, Emotion and Architectural Space of Healthcare Facilities
Colors carry the potential for physiological and psychological effects as varied as the number of colors on the spectrum. Reactions associated with color are spontaneous, can be positive or negative, and yet are often unique to each person. Therefore, color should be considered carefully when designing for healthcare facilities, when taking into account the wide range of professionals, visitors and patients with varying levels of disability who will use the space.
Color provokes psychological sensations in the mind and physiological effects which cause changes in the body. Color affects a person’s feelings about space – where light and cool colors seem to expand a space, dark, warm colors tend to enclose space making it feel smaller. The perception of weight and size are felt similarly – where light, cool colors seem to feel less heavy than dark, bright colors.
Colors have a proven effect on body temperature – warm tones (red, orange, yellows) can raise one’s temperature whilst cool colors have an opposite effect. Color can affect a person’s perception of time—warm-colored spaces tend to make one feel as though they have been there longer than they have and time seems to pass more slowly. Colors in a variety of forms and brilliance can stimulate or excite, induce boredom or calmness, and can even contribute positively to a patient’s recovery process. Such facts are becoming more recognized and implemented by architects and interior designers to good effect.
The typical white environment of a hospital evokes a rather stark image of white walls, a white bed, white uniforms, and blue robes, which at once arouses a holy, hygienic impression whilst leaving patients feeling cold, pale, bored and without a sense of vitality. For those who have serious diseases, facing this environment can make them feel loss of hope or fear of death. Today, significant design shifts are taking place to improve the atmosphere in healthcare facilities where the sensitive use of colors is applied according to the type of malady or clinic.
It is important to note however, emotional responses to color strongly depend on their saturation and brightness. For example, less saturated, bright colors like sage green are relaxing to look at. On the other hand, colors that are highly saturated yet dark like rich sapphire blue, can feel rather energizing. Each hue carries its own unique associations and emotional triggers.
What Color to Use on Floor in a Hospital and Other Healthcare Facilities?
Normally, it is recommended not to use more than three main colors within one interior space. The color of the ceiling should be lighter than or the same as the wall, and it could be white or match the hue of the wall. Connected spaces should use a similar hue, while individual closed spaces can use different colors. For large areas, light and elegant colors are recommended rather than vivid color.
The basic principle of using colors effectively in interior space is to keep it harmonious overall while allowing for contrast at the detail level.
Using a children’s hospital as an example, warm colors like orange, yellow or red can be applied to the entrance area to welcome the children. Warm yellow can be applied to the waiting room to encourage an interesting, warm feeling.
The corridor, consultation and treatment rooms can be light blue or green to feel relaxing. While yellow and pink can be used as small decorations or accents. Bright colors and playful patterns like animals or trees can be applied to the public zone within the patients’ area. Finally, light orange or yellow can be applied inside the patients’ rooms to stimulate the appetite of the children.
What Should You Take into Account When Designing with Color in Healthcare Facilities?
- Effect of lighting and materials on color
- Ages and gender of people who will use the space: Men have been shown to have low preference for red and purple, and children may find preference for bright or medium value colors and more imaginative patterning.
- Bright, easily discernible colors are more appropriate in facilities for the aged than light pastels, which are barely visible to those with failing eyesight.
- The nature and severity of the illness: for example, the use of highly stimulating colors and patterns should be avoided in environments tailored to those with neurological disorders, as it may trigger seizures.
- Types of tasks, amount of contrast desired and required for the visual acuity level: For example, highly illuminated warm colors can encourage increased alertness, which would be good for muscular effort in a physical therapy gym.
- Is the space for patients, staff, or visitors, and what is the typical length of time these people will be exposed to the colors?
- Is the goal to emphasize or to camouflage?
- Is the goal to organize spaces using color as the cue?
- Use as wayfinding cue: For example, a brighter color can be used in a field of pastel or neutral color to highlight the intended path of travel or call attention to an area.
- Use to denote hazards: for example in the United States, color coding has been developed to aid in decision making by specifying color stereotypes - warning information in red, caution information in yellow, and advisory information in another color clearly discernible from red or yellow. Similar universal color-coding standards introduced by ANSI and ISO include green for safety. Such standards for safety colors, signs, and graphics are designed to reduce accidents and injuries in public facilities such as hospitals worldwide.
- Geographic and cultural bias: For example, in northern climates with long, harsh winters, warm colors might be more appropriate than cool; in the west, the quality of light is a warmer and more intense color than in the East; in tropical areas, strong saturated colors (hot pink, orange, purple, lime green) are often favored.
- Consider maintenance: Maintenance is very important in healthcare, as color plays a role in the perception of a clean environment. Dark colors can show white lint prevalent in healthcare or the cloudy stain of an alcoholbased hand sanitizer.
- Consider aesthetics: As an example, although studies may indicate a blue accent wall is desirable for a coronarycare patient, the specific saturation and hue along with the way the color is used are entirely dependent on the designer’s skill and talent. Therefore, even though the initial color palette may not have been developed based on intuition or personal taste, the final product bears the image of the individual designer’s talent.
Remo van der Wilt
Head of Corporate Target Market Flooring
Sika Services AG