What’s nature got to do with our mental well-being?

How nature, color and our mental well-being are connected

Nature is the ultimate force behind our Color of the Year 2023, Wild Wonder. As our collective awareness and interest in mental well-being grows, two of the experts from our ColourFutures trend forecast panel sat down with us to share their insights into how nature, color and our mental well-being are connected.

Claudia Lieshout does principal design research at Philips Experience Design and Laura Perryman is a color material and features expert who also published The Color Bible in 2021.

What background do you bring to the ColourFutures trend report?

Claudia: “It's my responsibility to investigate future trends in healthcare. What I do on a daily basis is not just investigate the future of healthcare, but also to see what that future’s impact will be. I’ve actually been involved with ColourFutures from the very beginning, over 20 years, since I was a color designer at Philips.”

Laura: “I've worked in the field of color material and finished designs for about 15 years; looking at how colors, materials and finishes come together successfully on products, interiors and spaces. I'm the newest member of the ColourFutures forecast team, having participated for two years.”

Today we see a lot more focus on mental well-being. What factors are driving this?

Claudia: “Within healthcare, it's becoming more accepted that health is holistic. We’re seeing your whole body as one system. Social media is also driving change. It used to be quite taboo to share that you were sad or depressed. But on social media it’s a bit easier, and you can find others that are feeling the same way. Then, the pandemic showed us that we’re not designed to be all alone all the time, behind our screens. Science and culture are coming together and showing us that we can do more things to improve our mental health.”

Laura: “Yes, building on what Claudia says, we all suffered a mass isolation. The pandemic caused a lot of people to take a deeper look at who they are and what they rely on – physical things, relationships, activities, habits, environments – for their emotional support. From a lifestyle point of view, we started to regard our mental health in a completely different way.

“Our quality of life is becoming quite important as we grapple with inflation and unsettled political and societal times. There's growing mental pressure and younger generations haven't come to grips with how they're going to live and work. So we see Gen Z and Gen Y being more open about their mental health and questioning the status quo.”

How have you seen people finding inspiration in nature?

Claudia: “We’ve become much more isolated from nature and that has a significant impact on our lives. Research shows that if you live in a very dense city without nature nearby, your life expectancy is lower and you’re at more risk of having certain diseases. Doctors are now prescribing walks in nature or time spent near lakes or wetlands as a treatment. Five or six years ago that would be unthinkable, but we’re getting back to this ‘forgotten’ knowledge that’s now scientifically proven.

“Not all of us have the luxury of living near nature, what then? During COVID-19, a hospital in New York created a break room where staff could go watch natural phenomena, like a sunset or waves, on a big screen and quite impressively, it worked.”

Laura: “I also see that some communities are starting to adopt a 360° approach to nature, tending the land in a more regenerative way that feels good and joyful.

“In one UK project, a collective community bred bison on a large plot of land, improved biodiversity whilst keeping it all open to the public. It’s an interesting contained-nature scenario that lets nature go wild for the right reasons.”

What are the colors in nature that can have a positive effect on our mental (and physical) well-being?

Claudia: “Depends on what you want to achieve. In one example, a treatment facility used particular color combinations and gradients of color for rooms designated for certain activities. There was a room to be active, to calm down, to prepare yourself – and each of these has a different color setting. If you talk about relaxing and letting go of stress, we know blues and greens and greyish sand colors are very good for that.”

Laura: “I think it’s also important to mention that nature doesn’t just have calming properties, it can be very uplifting. You can get an entire palette from one flower: soil to stem to bloom.

“We've seen an influx of natural, bio-based materials in interiors – like wood and cork, but also cross-laminated timber. We know that being around wood tones of yellow, red and orange, as well as the wood itself, can reduce blood pressure, heart rate, stress levels and improve a person’s sense of well-being.”

What are some of the most creative ways that design and color can be used to bring us closer to nature?

Claudia: “I found this amazing picture of something called ‘lo-tek’ design philosophy. It’s a tree-bridge, but it’s designed as if it’s grown like that. Two trees on opposite sides are connected with natural materials. And the ‘tek’ in this case is not technology but ‘traditional ecological knowledge’. This bridge, it's monumental, but not disruptive.”

Laura: “I think we’ll be seeing more of a material-led approach to color that elevates the sensory element of a material in a space. Think palettes that have uniquely comforting natural aromas and colors together – wood, moss, cork, roots or soil. Some companies are making materials out of compost or waste plant materials and agricultural matter, that retain those ‘natural’ essences and colors.

“Beyond living walls and green spaces, we’re seeing the creative incorporation of other bio-based materials, like mycelium, a fungi-based material, or algae that actually changes as it grows and is exposed to UV and light or even pollution.

What advice do you have for people using color in their own spaces?

Claudia: “We often think of nature as a decoration, like a flowery wallpaper. But as we’ve discussed in our ColourFutures trend meetings, I would say that our link to nature should go much further. The colors you use, the products you buy; we should think of them as part of our lifestyle.

Laura: “I tend to think of your home and garden and plot of land as just as important as the wall color. It’s all connected, the inside and outside, and you can even use your building materials as decoration - tapping into colors that are ‘native’ to your environment to feel more in sync with your local environment.”

Claudia Lieshout (left) and Laura Perryman

Claudia Lieshout (left) and Laura Perryman

Fetching the data, please wait...