Based in Seattle, Washington, Cate is a marketing professional with expertise in strategy and content development. Her posts include writing samples from her work within architecture, general contracting, and commercial real estate.

Color in Healthcare

This blog post explores a unique assignment for one of Ankrom Moisan's Interior Designers and Healthcare Market Leaders, Marcy Naismith.


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 further consideration.

“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 Hospital’s patients.

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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