Connecting Color and Well Being: Using Color in Medical Design

When University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital administrators considered interior color options for their new 14-story facility, patients made one thing clear: White and beige were out.

“Families wanted an environment that was more welcoming,” the hospital said. With that in mind, designers went with colors that reflected Iowa’s natural environment and landscape in shades of blue, green and purple.

The psychology behind color has long played a role in medical facility interior design, from walls and floors to tables and chairs. Color palettes that encourage tranquility and peace (soft blues, greens and purples) are perfect for patient rooms or recovery areas, while colors that convey youthfulness and joy (vibrant oranges, reds and yellows) are great for pediatric settings.

For centuries, scientists have linked color to emotional response. Chromotherapy, or the use of the electromagnetic energy of color to spark wellness, also connects color to health care to promote healing and reduce stress.

A Rainbow of Choices

Underpinning the link between color and healing are the three basic properties of color: hue, chroma (saturation) and value (tone or lightness). Variations in any of the three elements can affect the emotional response to color, researchers found. Color psychology interconnects human behavior and emotion to color in these ways:

A cool and calming color, blue symbolizes sky, sea and peace. Blue evokes feelings of serenity, stability and reliability. It encourages feelings of trust and confidence.

As an attention-grabbing color, yellow reflects energy and warmth. It stimulates mental alertness and symbolizes freshness and clarity.

Black represents sophistication, elegance and high fashion for its slimming effect in clothing. Mysterious and professional, black is also associated with power and authority.

White conveys youth and cleanliness. White is pure, modern and safe and suggests simplicity, protection and goodness.

Green invokes feelings of calm, relaxation and commune with nature. It represents stability, persistence and balance while encouraging thoughts of harmony and joy.

Orange symbolizes warmth, balance and enthusiasm while encouraging happiness and creativity. Orange is eye-catching and is known to stimulate the appetite.

As an earth tone, brown symbolizes nature, security, dependability and strength. It can create a down-to-earth feeling of comfort and warmth. Brown also conveys history and connection.

Purple brings together the calming elements of blue and the force of red. It is associated with royalty and power and suggests wealth, extravagance and pride. Purple is an uplifting and calming color.

In addition, a 2018 study showed a strong association between bright colors and positive emotions. Neil Petersen wrote about it in his article, “How Deep Is the Link Between Bright Colors and Positive Emotions?” on

The study, “The universal and automatic association between brightness and positivity,” found the link affects both components of long-term memory —explicit (conscious) and implicit (subconscious).

“While people tended to both explicitly and implicitly group bright colors with positive emotions, the implicit connections they drew between brightness and positivity were even stronger than the explicit ones, suggesting that the association between bright colors and positive emotions occurs largely on a subconscious, automatic level,” Petersen said.

Applying Color to Medical Design

Evidence-based research in medical design shows color impacts health care outcomes in several ways, including reducing medical errors, improving patient outcomes and increasing staff morale and productivity.

Because health care environments can be places of extreme stress, interior designs, including the furnishings, should communicate happiness, warmth, restfulness and safety.

At the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, designers used whimsical colors combined with earthy tones to brighten the new look.

“Designers selected colors that are known to promote healing. All of the scenes selected reflect Iowa’s natural landscapes of farmlands, prairies, woodlands, rivers and skies,” the hospital said. “After studying photographs of our state, designers picked paint colors that echo those found in nature and hues that would contribute to a calming and healing atmosphere.”

Indeed, choosing the right colors for a medical facility goes beyond paint to include flooring, window coverings and medical furniture. In addition, medical centers must keep infection control, ergonomics, comfort and durability in mind.

Custom Comfort Medtek, a leading manufacturer of quality medical furniture, understands why color is playing an increasingly important role in health care. The expansive product line includes blood draw chairs, donor lounges and other medical seating options for patients of all sizes. Most products are customizable in a wide range of colors, including more than 30 vinyl and 5 laminate shades, and constructed with medical grade vinyl and welded steel frames.

Chad Dunbar, Custom Comfort Medtek vice president, said the company decided long ago to open its product line to a rainbow of colors to meet the expected demand. Since then, the pairing of color design and quality has made Custom Comfort Medtek an innovator in the field.

“We believe that a wide range of color options is critical in meeeting our customers’ expectations and ensure their satisfaction,” Dunbar said. “With dozens of colors available for our furniture, we are bringing the healing power of color to medical facilities worldwide.”

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