Ankrom Moisan is currently serving as the campus architect
for Western State Hospital, an inpatient psychiatric hospital located in
Lakewood, WA. As part of the team’s ongoing work, WSH asked Interior Design
Lead Marcy Naismith to conduct a color study, which would guide new standards for
repainting the interior of every building on campus. The hospital’s patient
focus group, which reviews how aspects of the physical environment can
influence positive behavior, “recognized this was something fairly small that
they could do that would really help patients,” reflects Naismith. “Most
interior designers have a basic knowledge of color theory, and we’re using that
psychology on a regular basis, but we usually don’t have to explain it.”
This research included not only the influences that colors
have on people’s moods, but how that differs by demographic: gender,
nationality, age, etc. Having studied color theory in school and practiced it
throughout her career, Naismith was excited to dive deeper into the subject.
“When I studied in school, we never really got into gender
and race influences. It was interesting because in a lot of cultures—more so
internationally than in the U.S.—certain colors have very strong meaning.” She
noted important similarities, such as both men and women favoring blue and
green, as well as crucial differences, such as Western culture associating
black with death, whereas far-Eastern culture associates black with health.
Building on these general findings, Naismith worked directly
with Western State Hospital to ascertain their specific patient demographics
and tailor the color choices accordingly. In addition to understanding their typical
breakdown of gender and prominence of certain nationalities, recommendations
were also given to accommodate WSH’s geriatric population. Naismith explained
that “as you’re aging, everything yellows out, so we were specific in
identifying which accent colors to avoid.”
“We also looked at the behavior that we wanted to happen in
certain spaces,” notes Naismith. It was clear that they would avoid stimulating
colors in the traumatic brain injury unit and utilize calming options in
bedrooms and comfort rooms; however, areas such as the dining room required
“I inquired with WSH staff to determine if they wanted a
color that would make someone feel hungry, or if they have a problem with
overeating. They said, in general, it’s an issue with people not wanting to eat
due to side effects of medications, so they wanted a color that would make
people want to eat.”
In addition to the value that the color choices would bring
to the patients, value was derived from the reasoning that backed up each decision.
Because color preference can be so subjective, Western State Hospital sought to
avoid presenting the new standards without explanation and receive feedback
from patients that they simply didn’t like the colors chosen. Naismith initially
shared her conclusions with the staff, as well as two color palette options. To
incorporate constructive patient feedback, the options were then posted in a
few different wards and patients marked which ones they liked. The result was a
proven palette that will positively influence the recovery of Western State
Beyond behavioral health, Ankrom Moisan’s designers in all
market sectors now benefit from Naismith’s research—from healthcare to
hospitality to retail. “We now have this document we can work from. It’s just a
matter of going back to our clients and finding out who their end users are and
tailoring it to them.”
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Around the World." Visual.ly. TopWebDesignSchools.org, 28 Nov. 2013.
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Carey Jolliffe Graphic Arts.
"Carey Jolliffe Graphic Arts Presents “The Psychology of
Color”." DCAD Library's Blog. DCADLibrary, 11 June 2013. Web. 27 Jan.