Choosing Colors for Your Healthcare Practice--Color Theory

Posted by Jayne Harris


Jul 6, 2017 4:33:05 PM

Color theory, the guiding principles for selecting colors that work in harmony, the message that colors communicate, why colors clash and how we perceive color — is incredibly complex.

Color is closely tied to memory and first impressions. For example, when you walk down the isle at the grocery store looking for a particular brand of cereal, you know the primary color on the box. Using color alone, you’re able to narrow the selection and find the brand and variety you want. It’s also crucial in creating the right first impression — research suggests that one of the main deciding factors in whether somebody likes or dislikes a new product is color.

Think about children and food. In the US, many foods marketed toward children have added colors. If a fruit candy was all white or beige, would children find it as appealing? Probably not. Color helps shape the perception of the product as “tasty” and “fun." Just like color can shape the perception of your business and office location.

Read on to learn how color affects the perception of your healthcare business — from your logo and website to the paint on the office walls.


WHAT INFLUENCES COLOR PERCEPTION?

The perception of color can be influenced by numerous things like culture and the personality of the consumer. Let’s talk about culture first.

Culture heavily influences color. Some colors have universal meanings — like stop lights.

  • Red means stop
  • Yellow means be cautious
  • Green means go

So, let’s take red as our example for further analysis. 

People perceive red as being a more stimulating color. Most people don’t have an inherent emotional response to the color, but depending on where you live, you may have a learned emotional response. Think about Valentine’s Day — everything is pink and red. Most people wouldn’t inherently think of red as a romantic color, but due to the association with Valentine’s Day, some people do. This makes the color an alluring one to wear or a bold choice for a lipstick, often associating red with “passion." But Valentine’s Day as we know it is generally only celebrated in Western cultures, meaning the perception of red in the East is different. 

In some Eastern and Asian cultures, red is associated with happiness and often used in celebrations, such as parades or parties. In Chinese culture, it’s associated with luck and happiness — whereas in the US and most of the West, people associate the color green with luck because of St. Patrick’s day. Of course, there are even more specific cultural nuances, but we’re looking at a broader picture.

The personality of the consumer affects their perception of a color — personal experiences, religion and even political beliefs can influence a person’s perception. Many well-known color theorists believe that individual beliefs and associations are so strong that they invalidate many color theories based on culture. This is an interesting point and one to keep in mind. 


DOES LOGO COLOR REALLY MATTER?

color theory

This is a tricky question. The most widely-recognized brands in the world rely heavily on color for the recognition of their logo.Think about Coca-Cola — their iconic red and white logo stands out on shelves, and it’s one of the most widely recognized logos in the world. If it was blue and white, would it still be as iconic? 

If you think about the bank logos of some of the largest banks in the US — Chase, Band of America and Citi — their logos all have a common color: blue. In US culture, the color blue is associated with trust and authority (think police uniforms). It’s also considered a masculine color — hence why you’ll often see blue clothes for a baby boy and pink for a girl. Although, it’s important to note that most grade school students and even some college students no longer have the blue/pink gender association.

So does color really matter in a logo? I personally think it’s more important for the logo to have a clear legible font, contrasting colors that are easy to see and a simple aesthetic that will work across multiple platforms:

  • Print
  • Web
  • Building signage, etc

PICKING COLORS: THE BASICS

When picking colors for your healthcare business, you’ll want to first consider the visibility. Can this color be seen from far away? Or does it blend in? If you have a red brick exterior on your building and a primarily red logo, what can you do to increase the contrast? Often, the sign can have a white background for contrast, but this is worth considering. 

I think it’s important to look at your competition. If you’re one of the two primary dental care groups in your area, and your logos are the same color, do you think people will get them confused? The logos would need to look very different in other ways to get the differentiation you need.

You’ll also want to look at businesses in your field that are highly successful. Sticking with the dental group example, look at the logos of national dental groups. What do they have in common?

Think abut the ways that you’ll need to use the logo: a sign, letterhead, website, name badges, apparel and more. Some colors may be limiting, for example, if the logo is primarily yellow, it won’t show up well on a white background. 

You can then start thinking about the specifics of color in marketing — going back to people’s associations with color.


COLOR ASSOCIATIONS IN MARKETING

As we go though these colors, we’re talking about the associations solely noted in marketing research — not religious, political or cultural associations. 

RED: red is often used in restaurants and food marketing. It has been shown to increase appetite and often causes people to eat more. You’ll see red in the clearance section at a store, as it creates a sense of "rush" and “urgency,” which can trigger impulsive shoppers to act quickly and buy now. From a physiological standpoint, red has been noted to increase heart rate in some individuals, leading them to think they are excited about a particular product.

BLUE: blue is often used in the logos of large corporations and businesses. It’s been shown to have an association with trust in a brand and a sense of security, which may be linked back to law enforcement and medical staff. It’s a relatively neutral color — most people don’t have strong feelings about one way or another, making it a non-invasive and safe choice.

YELLOW: yellow is considered a happy and youthful color. It’s association with the sun makes it a bright and optimistic color the can grab attention quickly. 

GREEN: green is a relaxing color, typically associated with nature and the environment. It’s often associated with wealth and prosperity. 

ORANGE: orange is another color that can trigger impulsiveness, yet it can also be seen as an aggressive color. People often perceive it represent a cheerful and friendly brand, although it’s important to note that while it is perceived as warm, it’s also a color associated with caution (think construction zone signs, traffic cones, etc.).

PURPLE: purple is a calm color, often used in beauty product packaging. It’s associated with creativity and imagination, yet is also perceived as a wise color, likely due to its roots as a color associated with royalty and success


SO WHAT COLOR SHOULD I PAINT THE WALLS?

Before we delve into this section, it’s important to note that color does not have an impact on health outcomes. Meaning a patient will not recover faster in a blue room than a purple room.

Hospitals and medical facilities were traditionally painted white to convey a sterile and pure environment. More modern research has shown that too much white can actually be problematic, as light reflects off of the white surfaces, perhaps making a room too bright or causing glare.

More modern research shows that color doesn’t need to be the main consideration in a space. If you want to paint your waiting room green, paint it green. What’s important is getting the exact right shade of green, or technically, the right chroma:

  • Quality
  • Intensity
  • Saturation

So perhaps not a bright neon shade of green, but a lighter green complemented with a darker shade. 

In a healthcare facility, signage is one of the most important considerations when designing a space. Signage should contrast against the wall color and be easy to read. It’s also important to consider using color to differentiate between spaces. For example, if you step out of a hallway into a procedure room, you may want to distinguish the difference with color. 

While a stronger color may work in the hallway, the procedure room should perhaps be more calm and neutral. It is important to use color to distinguish different zones — even if the color difference is subtle, patients will pick up on it.


FINAL THOUGHTS | InnerAction Media 

While this thought may go against popular color theory, I think it’s most important that you like the color scheme of your logo, branding guidelines and physical locations. After all, as the owner or lead practitioner, you spend more time in the space than anybody else.

If you feel stuck, seeking professional guidance will be beneficial. At InnerAction Media, we specialize in healthcare marketing and have helped establish and helped new practices develop strong brands that appeal to their patients and consumers.

We can help you too. If you’d like to set up a free 30-minute marketing consultation, click below.

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Jayne Harris

Written by Jayne Harris

Jayne joined the InnerAction Media team in October 2016 as a Content Developer and Graphic Designer. She comes from a background in Higher Education, having previously worked at Purdue University and West Virginia University. Jayne is also a yoga teacher in the Morgantown area and is an avid powerlifter.

Topics: Healthcare Marketing