Coloured walls to assist with wayfinding



A ceiling’s material, colour or finish can be used to enhance a person’s ability to perceive the space around them. As ceilings are often the least obscured surface within a space, they can give partially sighted people a good impression of the size and configuration of an area. Building user are best supported by bright ceilings that allow artificial and natural light sources to be reflected and distributed evenly. See links to

Contrasting the wall colour with other finishes can help people with visual difficulties independently assess and navigate their environment. It can help them identify features, obstacles and hazards or direct them to a destination such as a waiting area.

Recommended standards:

Use contrasting colours on walls, ceilings or floors to help identify spaces.
Consider the Light Reflectance Values [LRV] of the adjacent surface colours when looking at colour contrasts. A difference in LRV of 30 points is considered a sufficient contrast.
Ensure features such as a door opening stand out to assist people with reduced vision with the use of appropriate colours and finishes.
Consider contrasting light switches and power sockets in key patient areas. Though it isn’t necessary to contrast all wall furniture, fixtures and equipment.
In toilets and bathrooms, contrast the colour of the walls and finishes with sanitaryware, such as grabrails and handrails to allow greater visibility.
Use different coloured skirting to help people with cognitive challenges, and visual impairments identify the difference between walls and floors

A calm environment reduces patients’ stress and anxiety. This can be achieved by using wall finishes that don’t have an institutional feel, yet still meet the required standards of maintenance and infection control.

Recommended standards:

  • Use glazed or transparent panels in areas such as waiting spaces to allow light in and help people see out of an enclosed space.
  • Any glazed areas should be constructed of an appropriate safety glass specification to ensure the safety of all building users.
  • Ensure glass is clearly marked with manifestation to avoid the impression of unimpeded access which can be dangerous.
  • A tactile surface can help patients identify where they are in a particular space or room. Texture and braille information can be used with pictograms to help with wayfinding or mark out different areas in a building.
  • Walls behind reception counters and information desks, lecterns in lecture rooms, should be plain, even, and not visually distract to support more effective communication.

Provide sufficient space in corridors and other circulation areas to allow people to move safely around the building. This is especially important for those who use mobility aids, wheelchairs and mobility scooters.

Recommended standards:

People who have difficulty with their mobility may need the support of handrails on both walls to ensure inclusive independent access

Recommended standards:

  • Handrails improve people’s independent mobility. Ideally these should be fitted to both sides if the corridor is wide enough.
  • To help easily identify the handrails, contrast handrail colour with that of walls. To meet recommendations relating to colour contrast, it is important to consider the relative Light Reflectance Values (LRV) of the adjacent surface colours. A difference in LRV of 30 points is considered a sufficient contrast.
  • Allow a space of 60-75mm between the handrail and wall to allow forearm to be rested on rail without danger of getting trapped.
  • Handrails can be combined with wall protection so long as grip is not compromised.

Keep wall finishes looking the same under a variety of lighting conditions to minimise the adverse effect of strong light.

Recommended standards:

  • Avoid shiny, reflective, and glossy surfaces as these create glare and unwanted reflections. Reflection and glare can disorientate by affecting a building user’s perception of space.
  • Think about the design and placement of natural and artificial light when selecting wall finishes to cut down on glare and reflection as this can distort the view of the space.

Highlight key areas with use of variation in wall colours and finishes to aid wayfinding. A variety of wall colours and patterns can be a useful tool to mark out circulation routes and highlight areas such as seating or other activities within a large, open space.

Co-ordinated colour schemes and finishes can be used to distinguish rooms, wards, and departments. Artwork can assist those who can’t rely solely on colour.

Recommended standards:

  • Walls can be colour coded to identify different floor levels, areas or departments within a building.
  • Changes in the type of wall finish, texture, colour, and tone can be used to mark out different areas, such as an access route with seating located next to it.
  • Wall surfaces can be used to provide information such as department names and direction signs.
  • Ensure Information relating to a room is positioned on the door, not next to it.

Patterns and colour used on walls can help a person judge the size and distance of a space and what that space is used for.

Recommended Standards:

  • Avoid highly patterned walls. Subtle patterns can be helpful for wayfinding such as indicating arrival at key decision points. Avoid intricate or repetitive designs, stripes or strong contrasting lines as they can disorientate some patients.
  • Avoid bright colours as people with poor eyesight can’t see them clearly.

Wall mounted items should be safe and robust. They should support ease of movement between areas and should not cause damage or harm.

Recommended standards:

  • Conceal electrical conduits mechanical ducts and pipework within the depth of walls. If this is not possible, box them in as discreetly and unobtrusively as possible.
  • Grabrails fixed to walls should be strong and robust enough to hold a patient’s weight when they raise or lower themselves. Further information can be found in the handrail guide.
  • All building components should be safe and minimise the opportunity for self-harm. This is especially important where mental health services are provided where the consideration of anti-ligature fixtures and fittings is essential.
  • Position wall-mounted signage at a height that is easily visible and unobstructed.

A good acoustic environment allows speech and other sounds to be heard more clearly and is particularly beneficial for those with hearing difficulties. Good acoustics also create confidentiality within private spaces. The acoustic qualities of walls can affect the level of background noise in a space and the overall quality of sound within an environment.

Recommended standards:

  • Textile wall coverings or acoustic plasterboard will reduce sound reverberation and provide a more acoustically comfortable space. Alongside acoustic finish, other matters such as infection control, maintenance, and cleaning must be considered.
  • All internal walls should meet the relevant acoustic specifications to ensure that privacy and confidentiality is maintained in patient areas. See referenced document Health Technical Memorandum 08-01: Acoustics for further information.

Art can create a sense of calm, support space recognition for the visually impaired and support a sense of well-being for building users.

Recommended standards:

  • Art can help to create a less clinical and often intimidating environment.
  • Artwork and the use of colour can help point out visual landmarks.
  • For patients with cognitive challenges, such as dementia, pictures of familiar landmarks and artefacts can be reassuring and lessen the building’s institutional feel.
  • For more information on artwork the following link may be useful: The Art of Good Health
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