Designing, like most things, has a lot to do with audience and market segment. There are several specializations to the design world, some of the most obvious being Commercial vs Residential or the subset of Healthcare. There are others that are less apparent, such as Geriatric design, or design for the aging community. There are many special concerns with this community: careful visual and auditory clues to compensate for impairments, adjustments to furniture that make sitting and standing easier, and many of the same concerns that come up with ADA are also relevant such as grab bar locations and wheelchair accessibility. Visual cues such as signage needs to be bold and easy to read so high contrast between lettering and background is a must. One of the most interesting considerations (and surprising to me) has been color.
Color is affected by many conditions in the natural environment. Knowing what light bulbs will be used in a space or how much natural light is available will drastically change how the color looks in the space. But with a geriatric design, there’s another level to understanding color and it’s related to my odd picture of the yellowed glasses.
As the eye ages it begins to yellow. This is a natural part of aging. What it means is that to some extent an older person’s ability to see color is altered toward the yellow end of the spectrum. Whites are seen as creams. As this example suggests, most colors read a little more muted. Reds are seen with a more orange hue. Blues and violets and some greens are turned a more muted color, or even read brown.
In light of this, it’s no wonder that when I talk to residents at the assisted living communities they want to see bright, vibrant colors, that they are tired of brown, and that they seem to be attracted to red. Don’t get me wrong, our committees still like to see plenty of other colors , but there’s something about a full red that the folks I speak to seem to really like. I think perhaps it’s the purity of the color. Maybe it’s also a part of the color heritage of that generation and that Northeastern region of the country we are in. Whatever other factors are at play, it is a perfect choice for geriatric design in terms of the aging eye.
To help keep in mind the affects of aging on the eyes, we keep a pair of yellow-tinted glasses around the office to assist when we’re making color choices for these projects. They are, without a doubt one of the oddest things I have ever worn (they’re a little too small and shaped like “John Lennon” glasses), but they make a real difference in judging what colors might be appealing to our audience. If I’m having trouble deciding what to take to a meeting, these do come out and help in determining which shade of blue or orange might read best to the most people. They aren’t the proverbial rose colored glasses, but they do a nice job at altering my perspective.