Better living thought design.
Subject: Interior design (Psychological aspects)
Interior design (Social aspects)
Work environment (Health aspects)
Green design (Psychological aspects)
Green design (Social aspects)
Author: Becker, Franklin
Pub Date: 11/01/2008
Publication: Name: Human Ecology Publisher: Cornell University, Human Ecology Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health; Science and technology; Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2008 Cornell University, Human Ecology ISSN: 1530-7069
Issue: Date: Nov, 2008 Source Volume: 36 Source Issue: 2
Topic: Event Code: 290 Public affairs
Product: Product Code: 1542240 Hospital-Health Facilities; 8000320 Health Construction; 9105240 Health Planning & Construction NAICS Code: 23332 Commercial and Institutional Building Construction; 62 Health Care and Social Assistance; 92312 Administration of Public Health Programs SIC Code: 1542 Nonresidential construction, not elsewhere classified
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 231021647
Full Text: Like the College of Human Ecology, the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis (DEA) is multifaceted. The starting point is its faculty. We have backgrounds in social and environmental psychology, human factors and ergonomics, economics; architecture, and interior and industrial design. And our research and teaching ranges from design history, socially responsible and sustainable design, and the design of computer keyboards to schools, hospitals, and neighborhoods. A common thread that tics together much of this groundbreaking research is a concern for how the planning, design, and management of our everyday physical environments affects our health and well - being.

DEA faculty examine the role of design in our lives in many ways. Professor Nancy Wells works with nutritionists, public health experts, and city planners to better understand whether pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods specifically designed to promote "active living" result in obese individuals exercising more. Professor Gary Evans is working to disentangle the complex set of factors associated with poverty--the physical design of neighborhoods, crowding, and density--that affect how low-income children develop socially and intellectually, in an effort to understand how computer keyboards and office seating impact stress and injuries, Professor Alan Hedge works closely with his undergraduate and graduate students testing some of the most innovative electronics and seating being designed today. Professors Jack Elliott and Sheila Danko focus on the design of products and environments that are simultaneously socially and environmentally responsible, as well as beautiful and functional.


My own work shifted about four years ago from a focus on innovative workplace strategies in the corporate sector to my current focus on health and design in senior living facilities and hospitals. I am working with Paul Eshelman, an interior design professor, to develop and test prototypes we are calling "conversation corners." This new product combines innovative forms of group seating with mobile and easily manipulated digital, viewing stands used for looking at old family photos. The intent is to create a more rewarding experience for the family when they visit a parent or spouse with early stages of Alzheimer's disease.

In another project focused on the hospital setting, I have been working with graduate students to study whether creating more decentralized nursing "pods" in intensive care units (ICUs) contributes positively or negatively to communication and teamwork among doctors, nurses, and other health professionals--and whether it increases nurses' job satisfaction. (Early indications are that it did not.)

A recent extension of that study has focused on new nurse graduates. The research literature shows that these new nurses experience extremely high levels of stress when first starting their career, primarily because they are desperately afraid they do not know enough and may make a serious error jeopardizing the health of their patients. We've been exploring how the design of nursing units impacts opportunities for informal learning between new nurse graduates and more experienced nurses, doctors, and other health professionals as the nurses work to build the competencies they need.

We've been focusing on nursing unit design because $25 to $35 billion is spent annually in the United States on major hospital construction projects. As part of a growing movement toward "evidence-based design," our work is intended to systematically rest whether the assumptions guiding new approaches to the design of hospitals actually meet their stated objectives. Do they reduce nurse fatigue? Do they improve visual surveillance of patients by nurses, and thereby help reduce, for example, patient falls? Do they affect opportunities for informal learning and the sharing of information across the disciplinary; boundaries of caregivers on a nursing unit? Other studies we are doing in ambulatory and emergency departments are examining the relationship between the physical attractiveness of these facilities and perceived quality of care, as well as whether any changes occur in the behavior of staff that may impact patient perceptions of health care quality.

My own and our department's focus on health and well-being has surfaced over many years, more like a natural spring slowly filling a pond than from, any consciously planned effort to build expertise in this, area--at least until recently. Yet the pond is filling, and the timing could not he more opportune. We desperately need new approaches to improving the health and well - being of Americans, and DEA's consideration of how design can help reflects perfectly the broader college interest in making health and well - being one of its central themes.

Franklin Becker is a professor and chair of the Department of. Design & Environmental Analysis.
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.