February 2, 2015
Katherine Chappelle, IIDA

My professor received an interior design grant in universal design and my class embarked on a course that rivaled no other that I had experienced. We were challenged to problem solve and design spaces for individuals (real-life individuals) with various physical challenges.

During the initial interviews with our real-life clients, we were able to discuss their physical challenges as well as the challenges they faced in the built environment. Although building codes, regulations and guidelines were in place in the building industry, there were still challenges, and our clients were more than happy to share their stories with the future interior designers of the world. We were more than eager to put our heads together as a team to assist. It was an exercise in honing not only our design skills, but knowledge of codes, research, communication and listening skills.

Prior to solving the problem, we were also asked to “step in their shoes."

We were given wheelchairs, blindfolds, and the like, to obtain a better understanding of our clients’ lives. We were well on our way to becoming more informed and educated designers, in addition to becoming more empathetic to the physical challenges our clients faced.

During our discussions, clients shared whether or not they preferred being referenced as physically challenged or handicappers and, at the time, most certainly preferred the latter. A woman who was visually challenged shared that although we, as designers, may love the idea of a grand water feature, the noise of the water could present a challenge by interfering with her use of sound while traveling through spaces. We also learned that some of the minimum standards that are in place are not always optimal and we were encouraged to explore other options. It was a very successful and enriching semester on many levels. It helped prepare me for my career in healthcare design.

There can be quite a transition or contrast between university life and the real world. The real world is much more fast paced; deadlines come and go more quickly; we collaborate on more teams and have multiple projects; there are new standards to learn and adhere to; and colleagues and clients can be much more demanding than the syllabus in the classroom setting.

There are also many things that don’t change between university life and the real world. Whatever the chosen path in the field of interior design, be it healthcare, commercial, hospitality, etc., the constant is always people. The people who reside within the spaces we create, and our passion to create functional spaces that enhance the quality of their lives.

I have been in the industry for a bit of time now, and continue to feel very passionate about the multi-faceted profession I chose. There’s truly nothing like the work between our internal and external teams, and the reward of a thank you from a physician/nurse who passes you in a hospital corridor, an EVS member pulling you aside to tell you that they are pleased with a finish selection for its function, a pat on the back from a colleague or the joy of a team receiving a design award. Our industry can be very fast paced and challenging, and even with our vast array of resources, (research initiatives, white papers, etc.) we can sometimes lose sight of the big picture: enhancing the human experience – the people.

In an effort to maintain our connection or reconnect with the big picture, and to obtain a better understanding of our clients’ needs and experiences, the HKS Detroit office will embark on series of lunch-time conversations with individuals from our local healthcare community during 2015. We will invite cancer survivors and various individuals with physical challenges to share their experiences within the built environment and answer questions in hopes of:

  • Stepping into their shoes for a time
  • Honing communication and listening skills
  • Creating a smoother transition between aesthetics and function
  • Challenging ourselves to look beyond the minimum standards, shed light on continued challenges and finding solutions.
  • Becoming more empathetic and passionate about the needs of the healthcare community and becoming better architects and designers because of it

Stay tuned.

Posted in Health, Interiors