Dear House Rules,
I’m a pharma company executive, and every time I see a medical device, it looks clinical, capable – and boring. All that beige. Can color really affect how physicians and patients perceive devices? Is it possible that we might even be able to tie these perceptions into (or let them inform the choices for) a device’s branding colors?
Dear Technicolor: The use of color in medical devices (which naturally ties them to a brand’s palette) is being discussed and deployed more often these days. In fact, the delivery of health care in general is evolving to take into account the entire patient experience, and medical devices can be a significant part of that experience. Their colors can be calming and restorative, or they can be active and energizing. In addition, many medical products that were once used exclusively in hospitals and other controlled healthcare settings are now being used in the home. In that environment, medical products require aesthetics more in line with consumer products – and in appealing to consumers, color has great importance.1
Understand the User
When considering color, you need to understand who will be using the product and what will appeal to them from a color standpoint. In this context, “appeal” means “what are the characteristics and values the user will associate the product with?” Does your typical user want the product to feel precise? Intelligent? Durable? Sophisticated? Are there particular colors/color combinations that they associate with those characteristics? If you don’t know your user, you won’t be able to select product colors that will help the product sell and be well received in its market.1
Color is one of the most powerful tools you can employ to develop a design language for a family of products. It will be one of the main elements that makes a device immediately identifiable as coming from your company. That’s a foundation upon which you can build, because branding is about establishing trust: if your products are trusted, your brand is trusted, with the reverse being true as well.1
For medical products, employing color for branding purposes should be done strategically, with significant weight given to the functional and psychological characteristics of color that will be appropriate for the bulk of the company’s envisioned product offerings. The colors of the corporate logo might or might not be appropriate, depending on all the other factors that go into making good color choices. Use corporate brand colors if you can, but don’t simply default to them.1
The Emotional Content of Colors
When addressing color’s influence on emotion, you need to clearly understand what you want the impact of the design to be. Should it calm a patient? Should it seem intelligent and precise to a surgeon? Should it have a sense of fun about it so it’s less intimidating to a child in a pediatric setting?1
Certain colors seem to evoke a mostly common response. You can use these to make purposeful color decisions:1
- White has a strong connotation of cleanliness/sterility and purity; therefore, it’s very appropriate in a medical setting. And because any color contrasts with white, using the neutrality of white for the bulk of the form allows you to easily use color to describe and draw attention to user input areas, thereby increasing the device’s usability. It can seem cold (and be hard on the eyes) though
- Light grey doesn’t have the pristine connotations that white has. But because white is so ubiquitous in medical settings, light grey can be a good alternative to make your company’s product distinct. Light grey can be seen as softer and calmer than bright white
- Blue has a soothing effect. It’s generally thought of as being the most serene and calming hue. That’s one of the reasons it predominates in medical device design
- Green is also calming, and is associated with balance, harmony, and reassurance. Using soft tones of green or blue on accent areas of devices will make them feel less threatening – very appropriate in a clinical setting where the device is used to provide treatment to patients
- Black connotes seriousness, sophistication and excellence. It can be very effective for devices intended to be used in the laboratory. You need a compelling reason to use it in clinical settings though, because of the color’s clear association with death
- Red is energizing. Because it’s a primary color, it can be appropriate in a pediatric setting. Its obvious association with blood makes it a color to avoid for many devices, except in small amounts and to attract the eye to important areas
- Pink is a tranquil color. In Western cultures, it has obvious feminine associations, and should be used with that in mind
- Yellow is sunny, optimistic and friendly, making it great for pediatrics. Too much yellow can be overpowering though, so evaluate it carefully
- Orange is a happy color, and as such, it can also be comforting. As with yellow, too much can be overpowering
- Brown is reliable and supportive in certain contexts, but its association with dirt makes it a dubious color to use in medical devices
- Purple can be associated with religion and spirituality, and as such, can be used to provide reassurance to recovering patients. Lighter tints of purple are felt to be delicate and feminine. Purple is starting to be used more often in medical devices
Xavier Creative House has a deep knowledge of design principles, including color theory and how it can apply to medical devices. We’d be happy to help you craft a presentation for your device manufacturer explaining the rationale behind a specific color, and then pull that color story through all of your associated marketing materials. Give us a call or shoot us an email today!
Reference: 1. http://www.formamedicaldevicedesign.com/white-papers/color-medical-products/. Accessed October 24, 2017.
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