What is Trauma-Informed Design?

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by Deana Duffek

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What is Trauma-Informed Design?

You might be wondering how trauma is related to design. With the emergence of trauma-informed design, interior designers and architects have realized that there is an unbreakable, deep link between the two. 

An estimated 70% of adults in the USA have experienced at least one traumatic incident in their life, and 20% of these have developed PTSD. These statistics, combined with the fact that people being restricted to their homes during the pandemic has resulted in increased grief and anxiety for many. This further emphasizes the importance of creating a stress-relieving, peaceful space that carries healing properties for the users. 

This blog will discuss what trauma-informed design is and why it is becoming a significant part of modern architecture and design. 

What Is Trauma-Informed Design?

We must realize that the environment we are surrounded by has a considerable impact on our mental, emotional, and physical state. A strong bond exists between our psychological state and physical surroundings. 

Keeping this in mind, the trauma-informed design revolves around incorporating principles of trauma-informed care into a design with the aim of building a space that promotes healing, safety, and well-being. It is an approach to creating a place where trauma-experienced people may spend time. Examples include behavioral health centers, hospitals, social service facilities, or the WellSpaces we are creating through our non profit, Design With Purpose. A WellSpace is a safe and welcoming school-based oasis where all students can connect to support, resources and information on a variety of physical and mental health topics, promoting whole-person wellness. Creating WellSpaces on campuses increases access to critical resources children and youth need to thrive in all dimensions of their lives—and enables us to reach a larger population BEFORE any physical or mental health issues escalate.

Trauma-informed programs acknowledge the impact of trauma, recognize potential ways of recovery, and respond by integrating this knowledge into various practices that can help avoid re-traumatization. 

What Are The Elements Of A Trauma-Informed Design?

The goal of this system is to create an atmosphere that offers feelings of calmness, dignity, safety, empowerment, and relief. These outcomes can be accomplished by adapting to various techniques, as discussed below. 


  • The arrangement of furniture must be considered. For example, sitting face to face may feel confrontational, whereas sitting corner to corner without a barrier can lead to trust and conversation
  • Furniture that is soft and comfortable can make the users feel safe and protected, for example, an egg chair can provide a sense of calm, not only by the rounded corners but by the gentle swaying motion one can create. 
  • There must be designated areas that provide privacy
  • Furniture in waiting and common rooms should allow users to face away from shelter walls.

Aural And Visual Interest

  • Reduce visual complexity such as distractive wall coverings as they can increase anxiety.
  • Soft patterning can create a sense of grounding.
  • Minimize unnecessary sounds and play soothing music.
  • Adding a white noise or sound machine can be calming. 

Colors And Lighting

  • Ensure adequate lighting with the facility of adjustment for people with light sensitivities.
  • Rely on big windows and natural light when possible. 
  • Avoid bright white walls and colors like red, orange, and yellow. Go for cooler or more nature-induced colors like soft greens, blues, tans and other calming pallets. Please see our design-withh-purpose.org website for a complete color palette chart.

Biophilic Design

  • Research proves that views of nature — whether directly looking through a window, viewing greenery pictures or art, or looking at plants swaying — boost mood and increase tranquility and self-esteem
  • Bringing the outdoors indoors will not only improve well-being but will also enhance the air quality by removing toxins. 

Principles Of Trauma-Informed Care

Medical and school staff must understand the principles of trauma-informed design before implementing it. 

Safety: Individuals must feel safe. Safe healthcare settings (such as waiting rooms having ample space for people who feel anxious sitting around strangers) should be established. 

Peer Support: Nurses, doctors, counselors, teachers, etc. must approach individuals as “peers” and understand their needs instead of just focusing on “fixing” a condition. 

Collaboration: Individuals should be active participants in their healthcare decisions. For example, a diabetic patient can assist in devising a treatment plan according to their lifestyle.

Cultural Issues: All staff should work toward eliminating racial, cultural, gender, and any such discrimination. 


The trauma-informed design is evolving as one such movement that can provide traumatized people with a home that acts as a place of respite, renewal, and healing. Such organizations are working their best to create a better and more peaceful world for all. Our non-profit podcast, Design With Purpose, dives much deeper into the trauma-informed design to create a lasting impact. Please join us in our mission to help kids and families facing mental health crises. @designwith.purpose  or visit our website at design-with-purpose.org 

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