If you think about it, hospital rooms ought to have been redesigned a long time ago. When you’re stuck inside one, you can’t help but notice how lousy the experience is. Plus, you’ve got lots of free time to think of some possible improvements. On the other hand, you may also have things to worry about that don’t involve room design.
Unless, that is, you happen to be an IDEO designer who has checked into a hospital room strictly for purposes of checking out its design flaws. In Glimmer, I included an anecdote shared by IDEO’s Paul Bennett, who recounted that on one project for a hospital client, some of the firm’s designers actually spent time flat on their backs in hospital beds—so that they could truly see things from the patient point of view. What they mostly saw, of course, was the ceiling. And this led to a Glimmer moment: Why not use the ceiling as a canvas for presenting either useful information or, at very least, something soothing and decorative?
When you actually study and deconstruct an experience in this way, the opportunities for improvement often start to become apparent. When people step back and ask, ‘Why does it have to be this way?’ you discover that, ‘Well, actually, it doesn’t have to be that way—we just assumed it did.’ A good example is the standard two-to-a room design used in most hospitals. Once you break it down and analyze it, this design just doesn’t make sense. Because if the purpose of a hospital room is to help you get better, shared rooms do a lousy job of that.
Recent design research, as reported in The New York Times, has shown that single-patient rooms reduce infections, relieve patient stress, and improve sleep. And that’s not the only room design element that can affect your health: Design researcher Roger Ulrich notes that hospital rooms should be—but often aren’t—designed to allow for maximum natural light (which has been shown to reduce levels of depression). And most rooms could also benefit from better acoustics so that patients can sleep undisturbed, as well as better angled sightlines so that nurses can see into the rooms from the hallway.
Once you start thinking about ways to improve a hospital room, the possibilities seem endless. So let’s put this up for discussion: If you were designing a hospital room, what would you do differently?
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