Colour is an essential tool when creating the right environment for your patients and developing your practice’s brand, highlights Claire Berry.
I’ve lost many an hour designing my perfect surgery in my head; mulling over equipment, design, branding. Although, mostly intrigued by non-tangible considerations, predominantly what colour it would be, it intrigued me why I became so fixated with colour. Then the penny dropped.
Colour dictates so much and therefore when deciding on a colour palette you need to consider both your own and others’ perceptions.
The clinical skill of the team doesn’t wholly dictate the patient journey. It’s how we make patients feel while they’re with us but also how they feel after they’ve left.
Creating the right environment is key. I’m not a psychologist, therefore I don’t fully understand the concept of colour psychology. However, it intrigued me enough to look into this further.
An essential consideration
Colour is an essential tool when designing a new surgery or when developing your practice’s brand. It’s an essential consideration because it can have an impact on how we think and behave.
Colour is a powerful tool that can influence the mood of your patients. It can also affect staff and colleagues. It even links to influencing physiological reactions.
Marketing and advertising stand as well known industries for utilising the psychology of colour. Heavy investment goes into the research behind it because it is so influential on a person’s emotions.
It is not just the colour itself that can elicit emotion, it is also the degree or saturation of colour. The more vivid the colour, the more intense the reaction to it.
Al-Ayash and her colleagues carried out a study (2015). They found that paler colours generally seem more relaxing, calming and pleasant. The hue significantly affected heart rates; they increased in the red and yellow conditions.
One should consider these factors when planning a surgery. Being in a dental environment alone can cause heart rates to increase in those that have a phobia of dental situations.
Vivid colours increased perception. For example in this study reading scores were significantly higher. But an increase in perception within a dental surgery isn’t a good thing when pain perception is something we are trying to greatly reduce.
A study carried out by Wiercioch-Kuzianik and Babel (2019) found that pain stimuli preceded by red as being more painful compared with pain stimuli preceded by other colours, especially green and blue. The conclusion was that colour impacted pain perception.
Another concept is how easy on the eye a colour is. The human eye has cells within the retina that detects different wavelengths. Red has a long wavelength; green has a medium wavelength and blue has a short wavelength. Hues of green can be considered more soothing to our eyes as it causes the least amount of strain. Darker greens are best for this, the more vivid the green, the more exhausting it is to look at.
In general, vivid colours are more exhausting for our eyes to interpret. Green causes less strain, therefore calming you physiologically. This is possibly why it claims to calm you emotionally too.
Colour psychology alters depending on the individuals’ personal experience of that colour. It has also come to light that there are slight gender and cultural differences when researching colour perception.
For this reason, when considering colour schemes for branding or surgery space, you must bear in mind your patient base or the audience you are targeting.
Generally, blue was found to increase relaxation and serenity when compared to other colours. We often associate blue with nature and water, which is regarded as calming and serene. Over saturation of blue though, some consider cold. It is suggested this colour is good for waiting rooms – especially those that have higher traffic.
Green is also very natural, due to it appearing frequently in nature. It represents health and growth, and emits feelings of tranquillity and harmony.
Purple is not often seen in natural environments or in nature. It appears mysterious and spiritual. Often purple symbolises royalty and wealth. In some cultures it represents prosperity and sophistication.
Pink is romantic and gentle and often signifies femininity and as a consequence reflects kindness, nurturing and compassion.
Red is energetic and exciting. It appears intense or passionate. Although, it can look aggressive and dominant when vivid. Red grabs attention, explaining why it represents impending danger on warning signs. Studies show it to increase heart rate, elevate blood pressure and increase respiratory rate. It can induce feelings of anger or hostility in certain situations.
Brown shows strength and reliability. It appears in nature, giving a sense of security and warmth. Some see lighter tones as positive but darker tones as negative. Some agree that brown shows sophistication. In feng shui, the concept of harmonising the home, the colour brown lacks ambition and drive, and so, one should use sparingly.
Some consider black as formal and sophisticated, in association with power. Again, in feng shui it represents power, mystery and calm. Used sparingly, it gives a grounding effect.
Orange comes across as energetic and bright. This can make people feel uplifted and enthusiastic. Paler use of orange is very warm and comforting, however, when used too vividly, becomes overwhelming.
Saturation of yellow is bright and vibrant but is only good for brief exposure as it can inflict irritation and anger. When overused it causes visual fatigue. Some studies have found that overuse of yellow is more likely to cause anger and anxiety in adults and is the colour most likely to make a baby cry. Maybe, therefore, when applied to practices, vibrant hues should accent a room, rather than be the primary colour.
The focus of the surgery, in terms of patients’ perceptions, comes from the chair itself. As clinicians, we probably view functionality over aesthetics, however, going back to my opening observations, we must try to view this from a patient’s eye, not just our own.
I notice that Belmont has recently introduced a new autumn colour palette for its chairs. The palette reveals many muted tones. These clearly draw on the psychology of colour to influence mood and perception.
‘Agave’, for example, has the tranquillity of a green. ‘Melon’ is a subdued orange, thus offering warmth, without being too vivid.
At the end of the day, the question is not ‘what hue are you?’ but ‘what does your hue say about you?’.
Al-Ayash A, Kane R, Smith D, Green-Armytage P (2015) The influence of color on student emotion, heart rate and performance in learning environments. Color Research & Application 41(2)
Wiercioch-Kuzianik K, Babel P (2019) Colour Hurts. The effect of colour on pain perception. Pain Med 20(10): 1955-62
This article first appeared in Dentistry magazine. You can read the latest issue here.
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