Color and Design aid Healing

Design research of adolescent clients by design research professionals shows that pediatric and adolescent patients prefer certain colors, features and design of the spaces they inhabit. Rachel Blumberg and Ann Sloan Devlin report on a qualitative study of male and female junior high school students in the May 2006 Issue of Environment and Behavior.  ‘The teens rated color photos of hallways and lobbies and answered questions on design, privacy, amenities, entertainment and visiting hours.  While the adolescents prefer brighter colors associated with childhood, they reject emblems of childhood- like teddy bears and balloons’, according to the study abstract.  Their results are important because ‘according to the National Center for Health Statistics (2000), 1.6 million adolescents (10 to 19 years of age) were hospitalized each year.’ From Design Issues in Hospitals: The Adolescent Client.   

‘When Pomegranate was designed and built in 2008, it was to specific needs of the adolescent psychiatric population,’ according to Angela Nickell, VP Operations.  ‘As with any public space, it’s a work in progress, with ongoing painting, design improvements and updates,’ she added.  There are specific needs to consider when designing for safety, that aren’t a consideration in a typical home setting.  Pomegranate combines the needs of hospital+therapy+ recreation+dining+schooling with ‘home away from home’.  Nickell has noted a direct response to different design factors like color, finishes, lighting and space configuration.

Another 2008 study, titled, ‘Children and Young People’s Preference of Thematic Design and Colour for their Hospital Environment’ by Jane Coad and Nigel Coad evaluated hospital color scheme and theme preferences among children and adolescents age 10 to 17.  Their findings were reported in InformeDesign by University of Minnesota.  The authors identified  ‘that while one theme (e.g., sea, nature, and water) may appeal to a majority of children in hospital settings, preferences for interpretations of the theme may vary by age and ability (e.g. younger children may prefer more literal interpretations while older children may prefer more abstract interpretations).’  

In this and related studies subjects prefer sea, nature, shapes like waves, metal, glitter, shiny textures. ‘Interest in themes with animals and/or popular characters was limited to young children’.  Color played a significant role as might be expected.  ‘Subjects preferred pale to mid-color ranges as opposed to bright colors, which contradicts some previous findings (Redshaw and Smithell,2000). Mid-range blues and greens were the most preferred colors.’  The study reports that large pictures, wayfinding cues and simple colors which include ‘warm blues, pastel green, pale and mid-yellow or mid-oranges’ were preferred for the entrance area.

Beyond color, when it comes to space and context, there are also gender differences beyond simply age. The newsletter Implications by University of Minnesota’s InformeDesign link featured a study, ‘What Designers Should Know About How Adolescent Girls Use Space’ by Kandy James, PhD.  The study found that, ‘Boys are much more comfortable than girls in basketball courts, playing fields, streets, local parks, and other public spaces conducive to physical activity.  Girls often see these places as belonging to boys, and they fear being teased, excluded, or hurt if they try to join in . . . 40% of girls surveyed said they would use their school basketball courts if they were located where boys could not watch them.  Except for very confident girls and a few self-confessed ‘tomboys,’ adolescent girls are more self-conscious than boys about their changing bodies . . .  ‘ 

James reports that while girls felt alienated from public spaces they were passionate about more passive private space of their bedrooms. ‘They described these as refuges, havens, the only place in the world where they could be themselves or feel safe. In their bedrooms they could advance and retreat between their emerging adulthood and comparatively safe and uncomplicated childhood, as evidenced by the mixture of teddy bears, childhood memorabilia, and posters of pop stars.’   James found that ‘girls want to control entry to their only private space, with the right to decorate it or mess it up as they please.’  A typical residential stay is about 3-6 months.  Acute visits range from 3-10 days.

Additional Resources:

There are a variety of resources through University of Minnesota for parents. See Click on ‘Families with Teens’.  There is also Teen Link at, a searchable database of books, journal articles and web sites on teen issues.  There is also Teen Talk and “Take and Teach” Lessons plus research updates from University of Minnesota Extension Family Relations.

[Note: author of this article has written a text/trade book on implications of design on behavior, titled, ‘Patterns in Interior Environment: perception, psychology and practice’ published by John Wiley & Sons.]


About Communications

Communications and Social Media @ Sequel-Pomegranate Health Systems
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