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From the Inside Out

By Judi Ketteler

As a designer, you make it your business to know your business - whether it’s the latest CAD application, the newest product launch or up-and-coming competitors. But how much effort is made to truly understand the ins and outs of your client’s business? While designing a hospital doesn’t necessitate knowing how to use a scalpel, it does mean that during each stage of the design process, designers should be able to see things through the eyes of surgeons, nurses, maintenance workers and administrators.

Designers must have their fingertips on the pulse of the industries in which they work. “You should always be able to put yourself inside your client’s shoes and make sure you understand what is happening inside these spaces you’re designing,” says Andrea Hyde, AAHID, ASID, President of Hyde Inc., a healthcare interior design firm in Baltimore.

Here, Perspective takes an in-depth look at what’s happening in the healthcare, education and finance industries - and what those trends mean for today’s designers.

HealthCare

Life-Changing Business
When it comes to healthcare design, “it is brain surgery,” Hyde says. It’s not simply that the decisions designers make can affect patient outcomes. Today’s hospitals operate on such tight budgets, there is simply no room for mistakes or redesigning to meet strict code requirements that may have been overlooked the first time around.

“There are critical, life-saving things happening in this building that don’t happen in other places,” Hyde says. Designers need a basic understanding of those things - what happens in each department and how a patient travels through the system, for example - so they can help clients make the best decisions.

To do that, designers should attend healthcare conferences, read industry journals, meet with product representatives and continuously interact with clients, says Louise Nicholson Carter, IIDA, AAHID, Principal with Carter Design Associates in Houston. Her firm also hosts “lunch and learns” for its healthcare employees to stay up-to-date on industry happenings.

Currently, three trends are prominent in the healthcare industry:

  1. Competitive Marketplace. Facilities now walk a fine line between healthcare and hospitality. Stark clinical environments are a thing of the past, Hyde says. It’s becoming a buyer’s - or patient’s - market. The U.S. healthcare industry will spend about $20 billion by the end of the decade on construction to update facilities and attract the large aging boomer population. But aesthetics are only one component. Products must not only stand up to wear and tear, they must be affordable to maintain and meet standards for infection control. “Clients may not know what they need, they just know if it’s not working,” Hyde says.
  2. Staffing Shortages. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, by 2020, the United States will be 340,000 registered nurses short of what’s needed. And across the world, 57 countries are facing severe shortages of healthcare workers, the World Health Organization reports. “Hospitals will have to function with less staff, so the design needs to be that much more efficient,” Hyde says. Designers must understand how nurses and other healthcare professionals interact with each other and with patients, and create spaces that make staff more functionally effective. Designers must provide “better lunch rooms, meditation spaces, nice outdoor retreats where [staff] can get away for a few moments, paging systems and ergonomically supportive work environments,” Nicholson Carter says.
  3. Aging Population. It’s no surprise the world’s population is aging. The U.S. Department of State reports currently 500 million people are age 65 and older, accounting for 8 percent of the world’s population. But according to a 2006 study by the Center for Studying Health System Change, the rising number of older Americans will play a small role in growing demand for inpatient hospital care during the next decade. Between 2005 and 2015, the aging population will increase use of inpatient services by just 0.74 percent each year, or 7.6 percent over the 10-year period. The report suggests local population trends and medical technology advances will be much more important.

Education

Keeping Pace
Both K-12 and higher education are in the midst of a building boom. According to the 2007 Construction Report by School Planning & Management magazine, U.S. school construction completed in 2006 totaled more than $20 billion. Although that’s a 7 percent drop from record-breaking 2005 levels, it’s the sixth year in the last seven in which construction exceeded $20 billion. The report says 2007 levels are expected to be even higher. And colleges and universities from Rhode Island to California are investing in new and renovated facilities to replace outdated ones and attract top educators and students.

Whether designing a college campus expansion or a new elementary school, design professionals need to understand the challenges facing teachers and administrative staff, as well as what makes students tick. Designers should consider four emerging trends in the world of education:

  • Changing Pedagogy. “Now, it’s about collaborative learning versus a didactic approach,” says Carl Price, AIA, Principal with architecture, interior design and engineering firm RNL Design in Phoenix. In higher education, this means rethinking those large, austere lecture halls. Large spaces are still needed, but it’s more about integrating break-out spaces and smaller seminar rooms in creative ways. It’s the same tune in K-12 schools. “Educators are embracing the idea that students can learn from each other,” says Kevin Holm, AIA, Director of Educational Design for LHB Corp., an architecture, interior design, landscape design and engineering firm in Duluth and Minneapolis, Minn.
  • Social Needs. Colleges and universities have realized the importance of spaces for social interaction among students - comfortable study areas, cafes and rooms dedicated to open use. “These are no longer just leftover spaces. We’re programming and planning for them,” Price says.
  • Student Housing. “We’re seeing a dramatic change in housing,” Holm says. Today’s students are less likely to have grown up sharing rooms with siblings, and they’re not as keen to share bedrooms once they get to college. This means rethinking dorm rooms and building more apartment-style housing with privacy. The real challenge for designers is to make these spaces impressive enough to attract students, while keeping their finite budgets in mind.
  • Increased Security. Creating secure facilities is a definite concern in K-12 schools, albeit a sometimes controversial one, Holm says. Some institutions request glazing on classroom doors, for instance, to allow passive observation by teachers and administrators from corridors. On the flip side, in the event of an emergency in which an armed individual is roaming the hallways, he or she would be able to see into classrooms and take aim. It’s up to designers to work with administrators to negotiate the safest, most creative design solutions.

Financial

A Custom Approach
Progressive and highly productive banking designs that can significantly enhance ROI must project the individual bank’s culture, process, business model and brand experience, says Paul Seibert, Vice President of Financial Services for EHS Design in Seattle, a firm that designs retail branches and headquarters for banks and credit unions. “You have to understand beyond what the client tells you they think they want,” he says.

With designs like Washington Mutual’s Occasio retail banking approach - featuring circular layouts in lieu of high counters and teller windows - in the limelight, banking clients may be tempted to replicate someone else’s brand. “But you can’t just transport one brand’s design onto another. It won’t work,” Seibert says. It’s up to the designer to understand how an individual bank operates, not only to help improve the client’s bottom line, but also to protect them against theft.

Three industry initiatives stand out:

  1. Retail Focus. It may have taken the financial world a little longer to catch up with the design boom, but by and large, staid-looking bank branches that cling to last century’s model of banking are quickly fading. “Banks are realizing they are a retail store. They sell products,” says Paul Kegel, President of Kegel + Associates in Palm City, Fla., a firm that specializes in bank branch design. Banking is more competitive than ever. Designers need to work with banking clients to know what kind of retail-oriented displays, graphics, lighting and finishes will help attract and retain target customers.
  2. Increased Vigilance. Poor bank design can mean increased robberies - and good design can dramatically reduce them. In response to an increased number of bank robberies, Special FBI Agent Larry Carr in 2006 developed the SafeCatch concept, whereby bank employees create an uncomfortable climate for potential thieves while providing customer attention and personalized service. “These two processes are parallel,” says Seibert, who worked with Carr to develop the architecture that supports the method. “It’s all about the path into and out of the bank.” The approach teaches bank employees to recognize and address all customers as they enter, especially unfamiliar visitors.
  3. Relationship Banking. The goal in branch banking used to be to get customers out as quickly as possible. “Now, banks want to build and maintain a relationship with you from the minute you enter,” Kegel says. However, designers need to understand that it’s less about spending time with tellers and more about interfacing with products. Today’s banks operate more on a concierge model - a person at a central kiosk who helps customers shop and complete transactions, often using remote teller stations. Designers are challenged with staying on top of emerging technology that makes this possible, as well as structuring the space to foster relationship banking, Kegel says.