USP Creative

How important is environmental design in healthcare?

31/07/2015
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The Importance of Environmental Design in Healthcare

It is no secret that hospital patients are influenced by their surroundings. Unfortunately, many hospital environments are still overfilled with technology and interior design that is clunky, noisy and visually too sterile and intimidating. Sadly, the lack of visual stimulation in most hospitals can be highly stressful, albeit in only the most subliminal ways. Patient experience in such places dampens the senses and can create a morose mood among those who are already suffering from the stresses of illness and hospitalisation. We believe there is an opportunity through innovative environmental design programmes to make such environments more humane, comforting and natural.

Effective environmental graphic design connects people to their space by personalising their experience of it. The space then becomes unique, with an identity that is inspirational rather than merely functional.

Our team understand the potency of the visual image and recognises the potential for visual communication to stimulate, excite and inspire as well as to inform and assure.

At all levels, when applied to the built environment, the visual image can be effectively used to enforce brand ideals as well as to provide an individual and unique identity to people’s space and engender a sense of ownership and function within an environment. Additionally images and designs applied to the user’s environment can instil feelings of calm and wellbeing particularly in highly charged environments such as hospitals.

Effective graphic design can also communicate a sense of purpose for the space, encouraging group dynamics as well as defining the functionality and providing a sense of identity.

Survey evidence consistently indicates that NHS patients dislike the feeling of being just part of a production-line that attending a big hospital can give. A hospital that has high quality creative graphic art in place projects a very strong message to its patients and potential patients: this is not just a medical factory-farm. The presence of good environmental design says: we care about you, we take you seriously as people, we care about your environment and the environment of the people who are caring for you, and we care about how you feel. It says: we are more than a hospital we are a part of the good things in your everyday life.

Therapeutic Aspect of Colour

Colour is a fundamental element of environmental graphic design. It is linked to psychological, physiological, and social reactions of human beings, as well as aesthetic and technical aspects of human-made environments. Choosing the right colour palette for a specific setting may depend on several factors including geographical location, characteristics of potential users (age, culture etc.), type of activities that may be performed in this particular environment, the nature and character of the light sources, and the size and shape of the space.

The use of colour in healthcare environments must also consider diagnosis of patients (i.e. yellow / jaundice), easing of fear and stress, and also help staff do their job.

The importance of vibrant colourful imagery is great for children as a form of distraction therapy, keeping them focused on discovery rather than the treatment they’re about to undergo. We know from experience that when artwork in a hospital is interesting, positive, friendly and engaging, patients and visitors are calmed, stress is decreased and the performance of people in particular environments can be improved.

In a pilot study by H J Scheurle in 1971, patients’ blood pressure, pulse, rate of breathing, bodily sensations, and psychological reactions were recorded in rooms painted in different colours. In this experiment, the colours were applied to walls, ceilings, and floors using a transparent painting method. Curiously, patients’ blood pressure was lowered when they entered the rooms regardless of the colour, and then rose after they left the rooms.

The phenomenon was explained claiming that the unusual surroundings that were introduced to the patients upon entering the rooms prompted concentrated attention to the environment. Further evidence suggests that bland, monotonous environments cause sensory deprivation and are detrimental to healing. The brain needs constant change and stimulation in order to maintain homeostatis (stabilization of physiological functions).

In addition, white walls and surroundings cause considerable glare, which in turn causes the pupil to constrict. White walls have a clinical appearance that is unfamiliar and strange to most people; the absence of colour is eerie. The combination of white walls, white ceiling, white equipment and white floor create strange perceptual conditions that can be very upsetting to patients trying to stabilize their balance or orient themselves.