When people ask me what I write about, I bring up our shared experience of ordinary encounters with the healthcare system. Visits to hospitals, doctor’s offices, specialty clinics, physical therapy, childbirth, treatment for chronic disease, emergency care, waiting at the pharmacy, regular wellness exams, eye exams, dental exams, as well as our visits to attend to our friends and and family who are sick or dying. What does it look like? Do you notice the art? Did you know that someone had to make deliberate decisions about what works of art to acquire and install? How were these decisions made?
In an earlier post about design for dignity, architect John Cary recalls the nurse who attending to his wife when she was in labor . She critically evaluates the room design, saying, “I wish I could be an architect and design rooms like this better.” The problem was that an architect did design that room, and he or she had made poor choices that led to poor outcomes.
Similarly, all the visual art found in the healing environment is a result of making choices. Some are wise, some thoughtless, some even reckless. Some are determined by physicians themselves according to their own tastes - or their own art collection. Some by a hospital staff person - a nurse, a facilities and operations manager, a desk attendant - tasked to pick something up at a retail store or purchase from an online poster shop. Some by interior designers and architects with an eye toward an overall coherent design intent. And some even by professional practitioners in healing art design.
That’s when the eyes of the person I’m talking to grow wide and a smile cracks open. Then I get to hear the various experiences we’ve shared of spaces where we seek healthcare, the layout, the furniture, the lighting, the windows (or often their lack), the parking, the walking, the waiting.
And the art.
If you are interested in how thoughtful designers go about making these decisions, start by looking at the CHD’s Guide to Evidence-Based Art. You can see it for yourself right here. And whether you are a design professional, or like the rest of us, just familiar with your own experience in spaces built to deliver healthcare to you or your family, the guide is not difficult to read or understand.
I will go on to argue extensively for the need to update this guide to reflect new research and new questions, but for now it is the design professional’s starting point in the practice.