I became interested in interior design while attending career day as a teenager. Not quite sure what it was entirely, but I did know that by designing buildings I was affecting a person’s experience in that facility. Pretty impactful position to be in!
I graduated from Purdue University, majoring in interior design, and began my career designing corporate and K-12 to higher education projects. But with the economy changing, I wanted to focus on a new design sector and healthcare was that opportunity. I loved designing projects that made a difference in people’s lives.
My mother was a nurse, moving up the ranks to become one of few female county hospital CEOs in Indiana, so I grew up with healthcare in my DNA. Hearing stories all my life about saving and changing peoples’ lives made me want to become part of that experience. I had the opportunity six years ago to focus my design career on the healthcare sector and began designing for healthcare facilities across the country. I quickly became immersed in learning more about the influence of interior design on patients, families and staff.
When I take on a project, I fully focus on the scope of work, starting with an examination of how the project is going to make an impact on those using the space.
I begin the process with several questions:
1. How does a patient/family feel entering and leaving the space?
There are so many health issues that evoke different emotions: feelings of happiness, sorrow, relief, being overwhelmed, joy, anxiousness, nervousness, anger, patience/impatience. You must look at these feelings differently in each space so that people have the best experience, creating for that experience. You might not be able to change what is happening to them, but you can change their response to the environment.
A space is only as good as it functions and flows. You can make it look as beautiful as you want, but does it serve the purpose and work for the users and staff? Reviewing this throughout the entire design process is extremely important.
2. Have you ever been in a space that instantly changes your mood for good or bad?
Patterns, colors, ambiance, lighting, temperature all need to be considered for the total healthcare environment. In an instant you can feel differently with smells, sounds and visuals as they all play an important role in the ambiance.
3. What materials do you want to showcase?
Nature is a typical choice in a healthcare setting. But is this accomplished literally or figuratively?
Many studies have shown that introducing biophilic design into your space can actually improve recovery time for patients. There are many options for biophilic design, from live/faux plants, water, sounds of nature, artwork and materials mimicking patterns in nature or infused with colors found in nature. The effects of exposure to nature have been found to reduce blood pressure, heart rate, fear, stress and anger.
4. What concept do you want for your space?
Spaces can have a color and/or pattern concept, which can help drive the ambiance previously mentioned. This is an important step in the process with users and what they want to see and feel. How does the pattern affect your patient’s feelings? Patterns in materials can be subtle or very apparent. Subtle patterns can be calming whereas busy patterns can be distracting, which can be useful in the right application. You can use patterns to occupy your users’ minds or direct the organization and flow of space.
5. How do you design for the staff?
The number one complaint I get when starting a project is that previous designers did not listen to what the staff wants and needs to do their job, and often there is not sufficient workspace or workable traffic flow. If your job is to take care of sick people, how can you be expected to do your job well if you do not have functional spaces? You must have the proper space and equipment. Your design should help make the staff’s work more efficient, making their job easier. This entails detailed questions and often walking with the staff through their current work spaces to see their workflow and needs.
6. How to leave the lasting impression?
Once the project is built, the design team walks away, and the final impression should be one of accomplishment. This is a team effort by the designers, architects, engineers, staff and the users. No project can be fully successful if all players are not involved and have input. The flow, function and process are vital to the final design.
In the world of design, our mission is always the same: make it better than it was before you began. Even with today’s ever-changing needs and concerns, the demand for a better built healthcare environment remains the same.
As an interior designer, it is my responsibility to contribute my experience and knowledge to each and every project and to help our clients imagine and implement what they need. There is ALWAYS a solution and compromise.
By Erica Irvin, Apogee Interiors Department Manager