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Does your color scheme really matter?

May 15, 2012
by Patricia Call, CMG, and Kathleen Jantzen, PhD
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Facilities designed with an understanding of color can help patients connect the eyes and mind

In this brief piece, we would like to explore a question: Can the colors utilized in designing treatment facilities assist mental health professionals in affecting desired treatment outcomes for their patients?

To provide a largely empirical evaluation, we looked at studies that take an objective, physical approach as well as those measuring the effects of color on the human body and mind. Research finds that it can be difficult to measure a client’s physical response to color without taking into account the cultural, and anthropological preferences that are involved.

We’ll discuss in detail the major hues in the color spectrum, using the most recent forecast as reference. Color forecasts   show the course that colors are likely to take, used as a tool for a wide range of industries and products. Technical color notations will use the natural color system (NCS), the scientific color system with the best color clarity.

What is color forecasting?

According to Call, color forecasting is the determination of new colors to be applied in the marketplace. Every product has a color, even if it is black or white.

Color adds to the financial success of the product and draws a customer to make a purchase. The same can be said for architecture and interiors.

When the colors are suitable and engaging, meeting the client’s vision, the collaborative efforts that have gone into creating the project are rewarded, and customers’ expectations are exceeded.

To forecast colors three to five years in advance, a multi-tiered process is employed. The colors are not currently seen in the marketplace, either on products or in the design community at large.

There are four key steps to color forecasting:

Step 1:  Research social, economic, psychological, political, demographic, technological, cultural and entertainment, sporting, and artistic issues in many segments of society.

Step 2:  Research and interview the particular segment of society that applies to the client, considering the particular desired outcomes.

Step 3:  Gather images to support the forecast.

Step 4:  Create a palette of colors reflecting the research.

Whenever a space is designed with color in mind it is important to design with carefully considered color combinations. Rarely does a color stand alone.

A case of the blues

Blue is not only the most universally acknowledged preferred color, but also blue light has been shown to have an anti-depressant effect on behavior, measured by rat immobility/mobility.1

Depression affects approximately 19 million Americans, or 9.5 percent of the population in any given year. It causes distress and impairment in social, occupational, or other areas of functioning. The DSM-IV categorizes depression as a mood disorder, which can include major depressive disorder (MDD), dysthymia, and bipolar disorder.

To overcome depression, it is essential to enhance feelings of self-worth and self-esteem, increase energy, and improve the ability to concentrate through a combined treatment of psychotherapy and medication.

Historically, blue is linked to positivity, harmony, spirituality, peace, calm, and tranquility. The most frequent blue associations occur in nature: Picture the placid surface of a blue lake undisturbed by the wind, or the rippling, impressionistic blue surface of the ocean. Of course, these visual impressions are also associated with acoustic elements. Evening waves, for example, can provide a deep soothing sound conducive to sleep.

Blue abounds in nature: peacocks gracefully fan their feathers, blue jays sweep through the skies, hydrangeas are soft and luxuriant, and tropical fish are resplendent examples of clear iridescent blues.

The color most beneficial in making people feel calm and relaxed is blue. In designing spaces for those with anxiety, a variety of blues ranging from the clarity of sky blue to the greened blue of turquoise can be utilized. Studies have shown that brighter colors: whites, light grays, and lighter colors, are found to be more pleasant, less arousing, and less dominance-inducing than less bright colors: dark grays, blacks, and darker colors.2

Creating color combinations within the context of traditional color associations is really the best approach. The forecast blue is deep and rich, a true blackened navy without a hint of gray. It combines well with the newly forecast pale, luminescent, slightly greened yellow, clear celery green, or a grayed, richly forested green.

Green with envy

Green is one of various colors that can be beneficial to reduce anxiety and bring about a calmer state of mind. Anxiety is one of the most prevalent psychiatric disorders in the general population. Anxiety becomes problematic when it is excessive, uncontrollable, and manifested by a range of physical and affective symptoms, and changes in behavior and cognition that become a hindrance to daily, social, and/or occupational functioning.

A subjective experience of distress with accompanying disturbances of sleep, concentration, worrisome thoughts, and social or occupational functioning are common in many of the anxiety disorders. In particular, one wants to alleviate feelings of tension, agitation, apprehension, worry, and fear. Therefore, it is necessary to reduce stress levels, improve concentration, and promote feelings of calmness and relaxation.