Although we generally tend to think of interior design in terms of aesthetics, (in other words, we care what looks good and what doesn’t), there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes than you might think. Interior design in the home is known to contribute to your mood and wellbeing. For example, if you live in an environment with dark walls, no light, and little fresh air, it’s unlikely you’ll thrive mentally. Cruise ship interiors are in no way exempt from these rules, although as always there are special factors that must be accounted for (for example, the colour green doesn’t quite serve as the same calming colour it might do on land…) One of the designer’s key tasks and responsibilities is to ensure the interiors of the cruise ship positively contribute to each guest’s mood. When someone enters a restaurant, you might want them to feel hungry, meanwhile when a guest visits a spa, you’d want them to feel relaxed. But how can these feelings be achieved through interior design?

Luckily, the psychology of interior design is generally well-covered during aspiring designers’ extensive training. As such, design studios – the ones responsible for creating interiors onboard cruise vessels from midrange to luxury – are experts in manipulating the guest’s emotions to ensure the best experience possible while travelling.

The core principles of design include balance, proportion, symmetry, and rhythm. Executing each one successfully brings harmony to a space and can help to improve an interior’s emotional quality. But through which methods are these achieved? Space, colour, light, and texture all come together to form a cohesive work of interior design. But each aspect has its own variables that could alter a guest’s mood.

Read on to discover the ins and outs of interior design psychology, plus some top tips for cohesive design and colour picking.

Interior design by Tillberg Design of Sweden


A key challenge for designers, particularly those operating in the cruise industry, is to ensure space is used as effectively as possible. Given the increasing number of guests sailing and the limited amount of space, designers must work to maximise each area of the room, while maintaining a delicate balance and connection between each object featured.

Be wary of overcrowding spaces with too much furniture or an excess of objets, as this could leave guests feeling boxed in. That being said, it’s important that spaces don’t feel baron, especially given the increasing incline towards interiors that feel like a home away from home. On cruise ships, it’s important that spaces not only serve the purpose of creating a cohesive interior but also contribute towards effective passenger flow. 

“Interior design plays a huge part in passenger flow.”

Ann Bada Crema, CEO, Launch by Design
Colour impacts interior design


One of the more commonly acknowledged aspects of interior design psychology, at least in the commercial market, is colour. Carefully selected by the interior designer (in collaboration with the cruise line or shipowner, of course), colour palettes can make or break a guest experience.

  • Neutral colour palettes can offer a sense of grounded-ness and stability, as well as contributing to more ‘organic’ interiors. Beware though, a monochromatic colour palette could leave guests feeling lacklustre and sleepy. Best featured: In a suite, cabin or spa.
  • White spaces induce a feeling of cleanliness and freshness. Tread carefully though, too much white could leave a room feeling sterile and clinical. Best featured: In small rooms you want to make feel larger.
  • Red is the colour of love and passion, but did you know it can also boost metabolism and blood pressure? Best featured: As an accent colour in restaurants and bars.
  • The slightly subdued little sister to red, pink evokes happiness and peace and is much more calming than red. Considered a factor in appetite suppression, avoid pink when designing foodie spaces. Best featured: In public spaces and children’s areas.
  • A well-loved colour in the cruise industry, blue is one of the most versatile colours available. Light blues tend to encourage a sense of calm but be wary of dark blues which might make your guests feel gloomy. Best featured: In suites and spas.
  • Long ago purple was the colour associated with royalty, and even now it contributes to a feeling of luxury, creativity, and wealth. Bold colours like purple should be avoided in high quantities as,  similarly to dark blue, it could leave your guests feeling down in the dumps. Best featured: In entertainment spaces.

“There are psychological elements you can use to help people leave [or stay in] a space.”

Elizabeth Overland, senior interior operations specialist, Holland America Group
Interior design lighting


Bold, bright, and beautiful or light, airy, and spacious: natural or artificial, lighting allows designers to foster the ideal setting for cruise guests. Generally, designers favour natural light as it can boost feelings of happiness, as well as making spaces feel larger. To create stunning light-filled spaces, designers must utilise glass panelling, something which isn’t always an option given the stringent weight restrictions on cruise ships.

Getting creative with lighting gives designers the opportunity to alter a guest’s emotional experience further. While dim lighting can create a sense of gloominess, it can also help foster a cosy environment and encourage guests to stay put, (which is why you’re most likely to find it in spas, bars, and restaurants). Meanwhile, bright lighting encourages movement, so will be found more frequently in fitness centres, lifts, and corridors.

“There are many elements in the design and in the layout that are able to influence the flow.”

Marco de Jorio, CEO, De Jorio Design International
Texture is a key part of interior design


The textures you surround yourself with impact your emotions almost as much as space and light do. While soft and silky textures can encourage intimacy and romance, raw, rugged textures contribute to organic, natural-looking interiors, in line with the trend of bringing the outdoors in.

Smooth textures can act almost as a blank canvas in our minds, often serving the purpose of showcasing the room’s other features or the products’ form and colour. Used alone, however, smooth surfaces can be austere, leaving the room and guest wanting something more. In contrast, rough textures draw attention but can also serve as a distraction, so are best used sparingly. If you’re looking for something natural and strong, seek out hard textures to ground the room. As always, balance is key, especially when it comes to layering multiple textures.

If you’re interested in learning more about the intricacies of cruise interior design, including colour psychology and more, join us for Cruise Ship Interiors Expo Europe this December 4-5.

Cruise Ship Interiors Expo America returns to the Miami Beach Convention Center on June 16-17, 2020.