Choosing an image for the cover of Healthcare Design is always a challenge—fun, yes, but still a challenge. While we’re fortunate to have stunning project photography to work with, the cover requires some extra consideration: the just-right vertical crop, composition that allows placement of coverlines, and a shot that entices our readers to open the issue as soon as it lands on their desks. It’s also important to achieve variation in look and style between issues, avoiding a sense of sameness.

I’ve noticed that last point becoming particularly tricky over the past year or so. A few times I’ve found myself falling in love with the seemingly perfect cover only to realize it’s not so dissimilar to one we ran just months before. The culprit? White. In my decade-plus of covering healthcare design, I can’t recall a time when an aesthetic trend has emerged so universally. But here we are in the age of white: white walls, walls floors, white ceilings. (Light neutrals, I’m looking at you, too.)

That’s not to say we’re trending toward sterile, though. Those white spaces are frequently finished with bold architectural angles and organic ceiling forms as well as pops of color in artwork, graphics, and furniture to round out a modern interpretation of the healthcare setting.

When reviewing mock-ups for this issue’s cover, I found myself immediately drawn to the sunny emergency department pediatric waiting space you find gracing this issue—it felt like an instant morale-booster amid this gloomy pandemic winter. And, bonus: color! Yet even this space, you’ll find, features a blanket of white behind that wonderful burst of yellow.

I was reminded of all this when I opened Twitter the other day to happily discover a thread debating the use of color in hospitals. I love seeing the non-design community share thoughts on healthcare environments and quickly dug in. To sum it up quickly, I’ll tell you what you already know: It’s subjective.

Responses noted the merits of both colors and neutrals, and my bet is that circumstance shapes whether we desire to be soothed or invigorated. That means the only way to solve this via design is by attempting to strike a perfect balance, and maybe that’s the key.

It’s not that color is absent right now; it’s just being introduced more carefully. Instead of walls, it’s murals; instead of floors, furnishings—solutions that are more easily modified for programmatic changes or updated for style preferences. Essentially, these white backdrops are serving as a canvas that facilitates design to evolve for years to come. I’ll be curious to see what you do with it next.