Colour, design and creating positive mental health

Karen Haller 01
Karen Haller

A few months ago, I received a newsletter from 100% Design which is one of the biggest interior trade shows in the UK, where they released their forecast of the upcoming trends in design, and right up the top at number 2 was mental health. And as today, 10th October, is World Mental Health day, it’s the perfect day to look at where we are heading with mental health and design.

Now if you’ve been following what I’ve been sharing, you’ll know that I’ve been talking about colour and design for creating positive mental health outcomes for a while now, so it is wonderful to see it is starting to become more common place and a recognised area in the design industry.

Wellbeing was a theme I talked about at Altro’s showroom at Clerkenwell Design Week back in May where I introduced the concept of the Wellbeing Colour Wheel tool along with a framework in creating mindful interiors for wellbeing spaces. The amount of interest it received supports the growing trend of architects, designers and specifiers interested in how they can use applied colour psychology consciously when including mental health principals into their design.

An area ripe for research
There has been a lot of research into mental health and the impact the physical environment has on mental health. There’s research into effects in long-term care environments and it’s showing when colour schemes and design are carefully considered together and not separately, it has a positive effect on and aids wellbeing and 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.

And recently the research into wellbeing in the workplace has boomed as well. Just last year, the charity MIND carried out a Workplace Wellbeing Index with 15,000 employees researching how organisations creating the right environment for their staff can positively impact employee health and wellbeing.

What I would love to see next is companies doing more of their own research to create environments that have mental health at the core of their design to support the positive wellbeing and behaviours of their staff and their specific needs.

There is plenty of research out there in terms of the impact of sensory designed interiors can have a positive impact on people in the workplace in many ways. Research shows as well as impacting their mental wellbeing, some other factors that contribute to positive employee experience are:

  • Job satisfaction
  • Motivation
  • Company culture
  • Overall morale

This area is even more ripe for research, there is scope for us to understand so much better what is possible here. It’s still quite an untapped area when it comes to exactly how colour can be used mindfully and positively to contribute to positive mental health and wellbeing outcomes.

I’ve been watching this trend develop of the past several years and one of the things I can see is that whilst people are starting to recognise that colour can absolutely be used in a positive way, there is a gap in knowing how it can be used as a positive behavioural tool within the entire design context.

I have walked into many office environments with well thought through space planning, ergonomically designed furniture, they have beautiful plants everywhere, plenty of natural light, well considered acoustics, good air quality, and yet, the colour scheme is grey.

Whilst they have the other design elements perfect, a grey colour scheme is not going to provide the outcomes in terms of positive mood, responses and behaviour that companies are ultimately looking for. Which is why applied colour psychology needs to be intrinsically woven through the entire design process.

From the many conversations I’ve had with architects, designers and specifiers the reoccurring pattern I’m seeing suggests what we need more of is nuanced research to enable companies can get the data they need to create the outcome they are looking for. Research that looks at:

  • Environmental context
  • Experience and behaviours
  • How we relate to colour
  • Colours to influence desired behaviours
  • Proportion and placement

This is research I’m looking into myself and I’m looking for a company to partner with as I believe it is the next logical step in us evolving our understanding of the impact colour in real life and harnessing its power to create positive change.

If you are a company who genuinely cares about mental health, who is committed to supporting the positive behaviours in the workplace and you’d like to work together then send me an email, I’d love to hear from you.

Wishing you a colourful day,


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