The Advocate Lutheran General Children`s Hospital.

Intensive-care unit at a Parkway Health hospital.

A cool colour palette for CAIMS in Andhra Pradesh.

A warm colour palette for Asian Paints Project Sales site

Workspace 31 Jan 2013

Colour for healthcare spaces

In the field of healthcare design, colour is a tool that can be used to support the role of a healthcare facility and its mission.

Architectural spaces are widely known to have significant impact on human health and behaviour. Different types of healthcare services require varying interior design solutions and specifically, unique colour palettes, for example: 

  • Facilities, or specific areas of a facility, focussed on recovery may benefit from softer, soothing tones. 
  • The energising benefits of bold, clear colours can bolster operations that seek to motivate and energise patients. 
  • Areas designed for patients have one set of requirements while staff and visitor areas would dictate a different set of requirements. 
  • Perhaps most importantly, colour provides directional and non-verbal cues that may assist patients, staff, and visitors. 

Colour and Mood

Today’s hospitals and medical buildings are typically complex state-of-the-art facilities designed to be sterile, functional, and precise. It is essential to create an environment that supports these technical aspects while addressing the needs of the patient. Basic colour psychology illustrates that human beings have both a conscious and a subconscious reaction to colour. Our reaction to colour is instantaneous and has a profound effect on the choices we make. For example, while a deep, clear shade of red may be stimulating, putting one on alert, a lighter, muted shade —such as pink or mauve, will appear softer, more calming, and restful. Innovative design achieved through the strategic use of colour will not only put patients at ease, it will also help support their ongoing emotional and physical wellbeing. 

Selecting colours for healthcare spaces requires detailed and thoughtful analysis of a facility’s functions and its users. Design recommendations and material specification should be based on a plan that takes into account the effect of the colour environment and how it is influenced by the amount of chroma, colour proportion, dominant and subdominant colours, and the location of coloured surfaces within each space. A successful and thorough colour plan will: 

  • Find the balance between overstimulating and under-stimulating  colour palettes, without being  mundane or jarring 
  • Offer the right amount of contrast— neither too much nor too little 
  • Provide a variety of colour yet also remain cohesive and united 
  • Demonstrate continuity and decisiveness

Colour and Material Selection

While every organisation—and therefore every environment is unique, listed below are general guidelines that should be considered while designing for healthcare facilities.

Corridors and Patient Visiting Areas 

Corridors and waiting areas provide a respite for visitors and family members when they are not in the patient’s room. Corridors should use colour as a navigational aid and be designed to give staff and visitors visual cues to their location. Ideal waiting areas provide a sense of calm and offer a sense of privacy through the use of colour and material. People within waiting rooms often experience feelings of worry, trepidation, and hope. This requires rooms to be designed with visual stimuli that helps deflect attention from negative thoughts. 

Intensive-Care units 

In intensive-care units, colour provides cues for calming patients and reducing shock, as well as for providing visual signals to the location of equipment, operating rooms, supplies, etc. A peaceful environment can be created with aquas and lower chroma greens accompanied by accents in warm tones. 

Patient Rooms 

Regardless of the length of hospital stay or seriousness of the illness, patient rooms share some basic design requirements. In these spaces, colour should be designed to complement the architectural elements and provide a harmonising environment that supports and fosters the healing process. Patient rooms should feel friendly and comfortable and provide a calming effect. Care must be taken to avoid paint and material selections that might provide glaring reflections or overpowering casts of saturated colour that might interfere with the appearance of a patient. 

Essential Areas 

Upon entering a facility, patients and their family or caregivers are looking for reassurance that they have chosen the right healthcare provider. The foyer and admissions area will determine the first impression visitors make of the facility’s interior and therefore should feel personal and welcoming, offering a sense of warmth and security while inspiring confidence. The design should harmonise and offer an easy transition to medical spaces.

Exterior Spaces Versus Interior Spaces 

Interiors usually garner the most attention in colour and architectural design, yet it should not be forgotten that it is the exterior that offers the first impression of a facility. Just as a bold red hue and oversized lettering may be used to direct people to an emergency entrance; more appealing exterior colours, shapes, and signage can draw people in by providing the first positive visual associations of the facility. 

Paediatric Wards 

While a hospital stay is unsettling at any age, it can be a particularly traumatic experience for a child. As children often do not understand the reason for being there, the surrounding physical environment plays an important role. Ideally, a paediatric ward’s spatial and visual sphere of experience should be planned and executed with care to create a loving space. Consider choosing mainly bright, warm, clear colours to provide a friendly atmosphere, and select design elements that are playful, without being clichéd.


Colour as the Connector

Colour is the common thread to a healthcare design plan. A facility’s colour plan starts at the exterior of the building and extends throughout the entire structure. To achieve a cohesive look, there should be only one master colour plan. Each unique area of the facility can be personalised within that plan according to its needs. 

Today’s designers are charged with selecting colour plans that are designed to last 20 to 25 years before being changed. This eliminates trendy or easily dated schemes and instead directs them to timeless choices, such as nature-based palettes. Lower-chroma shades in the families of blue, green, and brown create a classic look that can be accented with deeper shades such as plum, russet, and gold.  Materials with natural-based formulas, or those visually resembling the natural world, are more popular. 

While facilities continue to evolve to accommodate the changing landscape, the role of good design remains. Regardless of the size, layout, or character of a facility, colour continues to have an integral role in design and can be used to help foster and support a healthcare organisation’s mission.

Contributor: President and chief color maven of Sensational Color, Kate Smith is an internationally renowned colour expert, sought out for her ability to guide businesses on how to use colour to gain recognition and generate revenue. 



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