Colour, design and creating positive mental health

Karen Haller 01
Karen Haller
colour design and creating positive mental health karen haller

Back in 2018, one of the leading UK interior trade shows, 100% Design, released their forecast of the upcoming trends in design, and right up the top at number 2 was mental health.

Five years on mental health in design is still a hot topic even more so with the impact of the pandemic lockdowns of 2020 – 2021 which has pushed it further up the agenda for businesses and organisations.

And it was also back in 2018 this was a theme I talked about at Clerkenwell Design Week when I introduced the concept of the Wellbeing Colour Wheel tool. This was a framework for creating mindful interiors for wellbeing spaces. The amount of interest it received supports the growing trend of architects, designers and specifiers interested in how to apply this.

But there’s the thing. I’ve been watching this trend develop over the past several years and one of the things I can see is while they are recognising that colour can be used in a positive way, beyond purely aesthetics, there is a gap in knowing how it can be used as a positive behavioural tool within the entire design context. 

The gap in mental health research: colour psychology

There has been a lot of research into mental health and the impact the physical environment has on mental health.

The UK Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health states that city-dwellers are at greater risk of mental health problems and that urban design can support positive mental health in creating a healthier, happier urban future.

The charity MIND has for the past six years carried out their Workplace Wellbeing Index with with over 41,000 employees from 119 organisations across the UK taking part in creating a benchmark best policy and practice for supporting mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.

Even though there is good research into how to create the right environment, what is still missing is the knowledge of how to apply colour in a way that contributes to positive mental health and wellbeing outcomes in our work, public and lived environments.

A perfect example for me as an Applied Colour & Design Psychology Specialist is I walk into many offices with well thought through space planning, ergonomically designed furniture, beautiful plants everywhere, plenty of natural light, well considered acoustics, good air quality, and yet what I’m hit with is a sea of grey. And the many suppliers that I speak to still tell me that grey is the preferred go-to colour.

And grey is not good for our mental health.

What’s missing in this entire approach to our offices, public spaces, healthcare, our homes is the use of applied colour psychology which intrinsically weaves colour through the entire design process with a specific focus on the behavioural and positive mental outcomes people want in those spaces.

The role Applied Colour and Design Psychology plays

Whether we are aware of it or not, humans have subconscious responses to colour and design and Applied Colour and Design Psychology helps us understand what those responses are, so we can use that information to positively influence our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. 

And when we understand this connection with colour and the behavioural outcomes our clients want, designers can consciously use colour and design as part of the solution to solve the challenges of mental health whether that’s for the home, workplace, public spaces, healthcare or any environment. And just as important, be able to explain the logic and rationale behind your choices in a way that your client will understand.

If you’re a designer who focus is, or who wants to incorporate more focus around mental health and creating positive behaviours in the spaces for your clients, then right now post-pandemic is an incredible opportunity to really dive into how to use colour more deeply in your design work.

Inside my Applied Colour and Design Psychology programme I teach a framework that will help you upskill your knowledge to move beyond grey and utilise the right colours to design for positive mental health and wellbeing.

If you would like to find out how you can add this skill to your designer toolbox, you’ll find all the details in my 6-month Advance Colour & Design Psychology Mentoring Programme.

Colourfully yours,

Originally posted 10th October, 2018
Updated 24th October, 2023

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