Healthcare is everywhere lately, no doubt fueled by the insanity going on south of the border. While “We the North” can rest a little more comfortably in a long-established, saner healthcare system, that doesn’t mean everything is running on all cylinders. Even in Canada, there are disconnects everywhere: from the science to the policy to the funding to, yes, even design. “Healthcare design does not yet fit into the conventional clinical organization, and institutional practices have not established meaningful positions for design” says Peter Jones in his book Design for Care: Innovating Healthcare Experience. This is true for all forms of design, including communications, visual, product and interior design. “Design (of all disciplines) is not yet showing its impact in health services. For the most part, designers remain on the sidelines in institutions and practice, unsure of where and how to step in and make a difference,” says Jones. “Compounding this position is the difficulty that designers are often not given the latitude to practice creatively and meaningfully in healthcare institutions.”
Healthcare is a messy, emotional landscape to work in, where fuzzy, ill-defined, invisible and often chaotic human relationships shape many of the interactions. In such a massively complex system, designers need to stay humble, curious and adaptive. They shouldn’t attempt to “fix” the care sector, but instead should attempt to gain credibility and respect by showing the impact of design. One way is the introduction of a new language for design within the larger realm of healthcare, says Jones, actively engaging in new kinds of caring partnerships which challenge the pre-existing institutionalized power dynamics that have historically characterized the relationships between patients and doctors. “Until we prove to be valuable contributing members of the care team, we risk being seen as specialists and even marginal players in the story of care,” says Jones.
Yet progress is being made, and examples of being “valuable contributing members of the care team” are emerging in Canada. Interesting exploratory work is being done at the Health Design Lab at Emily Carr’s Design School in Vancouver, and in Toronto, OCAD University’s Strategic Innovation Lab (sLab) has done a lot of work in the health industry sphere (and also where Jones is an Associate Professor). And of course the projects featured in this issue — the CHU Sainte-Justine in Montréal, and Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre in Hamilton, Ont. — are illustrative of the ways that designers are understanding the needs of healthcare as it evolves in a more holistic and patient-centered way.