How Human Centred Design is ‘Humanising’ Healthcare

Human Centered Design

Natassja Wynhorst

Client Experience Executive, Interite Healthcare Interiors

Gone are the days of sterile and clinical healthcare environments, Natassja Wynhorst from Interite explores modern medical service designs and why we are paying increasingly more attention to the need of ‘humanising’ the healthcare environment.

Gone are the days of sterile and clinical healthcare environments, as modern medical service designs are paying increasingly more attention to the need of ‘humanising’ the healthcare environment. The idea of ‘humanising’ healthcare centres is not directly defined into one set of processes, as of course each medical space is servicing their specific functions for their specific demographics in different locations.

In today’s society, the need for medical care spaces to be reformed and refurbished is widely acknowledged and accepted as the idea of patient-centric design takes hold. In the beginning, the reference to ‘humanising’ medical spaces was developed as a result of social and political contexts, worldwide (1), and has now formed the creative approach of ‘Human Centred Design’ (HCD).

Human Centred Design
HCD is an approach developed of processes in which begins in the comprehensive understanding of whom the design is being created for. Through specific and detailed research by the interior designers and architects, a concise comprehension of the main users of the facility, both the employees and the clients, will facilitate an ease in creating design solutions that are tailored to their specific needs (2).

The facilitation of empathy to those whom the designer is designing for enables the development of ideas best suited to the client’s needs, vision and brief. The HCD approach has substantial benefits for all users, inclusive of economic and social benefits. A space in which is designed by the HCD methodology and framework improves quality, delivery and over all client experience. The increased productivity, efficiency, ease, and usability also results in a higher competitive advantage in the competitive medical market place, whilst also reducing the stress and discomfort of the users.

The History of Human Centred Design
The approach of HCD originated in the 1980s and was refined and developed throughout the 1990s. Interestingly, the origins of HCD developed from ‘human-computer interaction,’ (HCI), which was the approach of enabling software companies to develop specific designing interfaces. This was based on the foundation of understanding the interactions between the users, software and hardware (3), with user-experience falling into the same category.

Similar to what HCD is today, HCI’s method revolved around the comprehension of what the user wants, needs, and their workloads. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, the transition from HCI into HCD evolved, going beyond the computer software focus into the design domain (3).

Because of this extensive history, HCD is a broad discipline, enabling design solutions built upon the needs of the users and specific outcomes; whether it be directly, or indirectly, a design is generally for humans.

This ideology and framework is changing the design and construction of all modern healthcare environments. The unnecessary stress from staff and clients in their environments are being revaluated in a new understanding of their points of view, which is now building the right connections with clients and their healthcare centres.

Healthcare professionals are trained immensely to use complicated devices and systems, and the design of their spaces layout should be able to encourage efficiency and ease of use, rather than inhibiting their everyday functions and tasks.

The Understanding of Human Centred Design
With the increasing global use of the HCD methodology and approach, many characteristics of HCD have been developed to examine the spaces and if they are expected to meet with client needs. To do this, as mentioned, that clear comprehensive understanding of the clients must be established, and is done so through the basic use of, “who, what, when, where and why?”

To understand these factors, questions must be acknowledged. For example:

  • Who is your client and does the design reflect their demographic?
  • What are the client’s goals of visiting your medical centre?
  • What is the client experience of your medical centre?
  • What are the goals of implementing HCD into your medical space?
  • When and how does the client interact with your medical space?
  • Why does the client use your medical space?

Who are the Users of Human Centred Design?
The HCD of your medical environment affects everybody whom enters the space, whether it be the doctors and support staff whom uses the space every day, or clients who may only spend 10-minutes there. By answering the mentioned questions in order to establish the best design for a user-centric space is critical, so let’s divulge further into who the users are.

Beginning with the most essential, and obvious user: Clients. The clients whom enter the hospital, practice or clinic are the main reason for the organisations establishment. What I mean by this is that if there were no clients to treat or assist, then there would be no need for the medical space. Although it may sound too straight forward, the clients are the revenue influences of the space and catering for them will be the deciding factor of their return and referral to other potential clients.

By catering for the clients, one must consider their comfort and distress. For client’s whom have mobility issues and perhaps are wheelchair bound, need specific attention to catering as they will need a ramp in place of stairs, or an elevator system in a multilevel space, and also automatic sliding doors, rather than the traditional push and pull.

Client’s whom are not wheelchair bound but do possess a physical disability may also require a different level of comfort. For example, implementing human centred furnishings into the design tailored to their needs, such as a range of chairs with different heights and widths with adjustable arm rests and back support. This will allow those with mobility issues to sit and stand with ease and comfort.

Depending on the speciality of the medical environment and its targeted demographic, client’s may not always be matured. Children attending the centres, whether they be clients or simply visiting with family members, seek familiar surroundings for comfort. Incorporating safe play areas into the design is a key method in creating a human centred space for the children, however the design of this area should focus on creating a harmonious environment; therefore, should be quiet and undisruptive of other clients. 

The design implementation of non-slip flooring, no sharp edges, appropriate toys and games and, if enclosed, soft closing gates are a few basic examples of a patient-centric design for children. Of course, they will not be in the centre alone, therefore providing a space for their carers and parents to sit comfortably and have direct vision to them is essential.

Those whom are visiting with the patient, more commonly referred to as the care-givers, should be highly considered. Once again, depending on the speciality of the centre or nature of the client’s visit, care-givers have the potential of being in the centre for hours. Thus, designing from their perspective of needs and desires is critical to ensure a great client experience through HCD. Simple design and furnishing methods include the incorporation of tea, coffee and water stations, close and easy accessibility to restroom facilitates, reading materials, television, and the opportunity to connect to Wi-Fi on their smart devices.

Lastly, we reach the staff of the medical facility. The employees are made up of the doctors, surgeons, nurses, support staff and many more depending on the nature of the centre. The employees essentially are the frontline of the medical centre and the client experience; therefore, they must be taken care of; especially in terms of the facility design.

Through the use of HCD, the ability to provide an environment in which they can excel is key. This is created through the influence of an ergonomical and sound environment with the implementation of agile technology.

The attraction and retention of the employees is equally as critical as the attraction and retention of clients, making the ability for the employees to progress in the organisation crucial. Providing a physical environment through HCD influences a good working ethic in a highly competitive market place. Surely it is not necessary to state the obvious fact that nobody wishes to work in a medical environment which does not cater to their working abilities?

Lastly the question most practitioners ask is: “Yes, but how much will it cost?” In simple terms it costs nothing to apply HCD design techniques and refine your layout to speak directly to all user needs. The costs of the basic design amenities, such the walls and doors, are no more than in any other medical environment. Whilst there is an increased time in research and analysis upon commencement, this would have no more than a nominal effect on a project pricing and could ultimately increase your patient retention by thousands.

The increasing acknowledgement of the need for HCD medical environments is growing exponentially. The traditional medical environments are no longer being sought after, as the sterile clinical feel is drifting out of date and undesired. HCD is ‘humanising’ healthcare design globally, and it is seen through many modern hospitals and centres. The client experience of clients and staff are being recognised as the one of the key competitive advantages and it is time to grasp that understanding and provide a holistic positive client experience


Views, information or opinions expressed within this article are solely those of the author rather than the ‘individuals involved.’ This article does not necessarily represent the official policy or position of any other agency, organisation, employer or company and includes information obtained from third parties. These views are subject to change and revision.

The Private Practice Magazine

This article featured in our
Summer 2018 Edition

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