When Design Fails: The Importance of User Feedback in Architecture
When spaces are designed well, you won’t notice it. Everything goes naturally and there are no restrictions or problems. You’d say that you would notice it when a place is ill designed. Well no, not always. Experiencing spaces happen unconsciously. In this blog post I will talk about a problem where users did have problems with how the building was built.
From hiring an architect to moving into the new space
When companies need to renovate their place or when they want to build their new place, they’ll probably have to hire an architect to make designs and to follow up the construction site (and a lot of other things I won’t bore you with).
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What happens is that the person in charge of the “new development” will have a conversation with the architect to see what they need for their new workplace. Sometimes it happens that the architect (or someone else) will facilitate a panel discussion in which all users of the new, or newly renovated building are invited.
The outcome of this panel discussion is to have a clear view of what the client wishes: what are their needs, how do they work, what are their aesthetical preferences,.. We call this a program requirements. Based on this information, together with the plot or building, cost, engineering, all kids of regulations,.. the architect can start to design.
After re-iterating the design several times, the client and architect agree on the final design. In bigger projects the structural engineer, technical engineer,.. are all involved as early as possible in the design process. The permit is handed in, received, the building is being built and then the day has come that the users move into the building and start using it.
In the beginning everything is shiny, new and exciting. But the new wears off and people are actually using the spaces the architect thoughtfully designed. After one or 2 years the users know the building very well and they also know what is designed well and what could have done better. I’ll give you an example.
The hospital case
Last year I had to go to the hospital. The hospital was newly built and you expect everything to be flawless.
I was laying in my bed waiting for the nurse to come pick me up and ride me to the next room. I was in a room with four other patients and I could tell that was full capacity of the room. Quite some cabinets, beds,.. My nurse came over and it was time! As she was steering my bed, she needed to go through the door and onto the corridor, so she had to make a turn with the bed to the right.
She turned, had to go backwards, go forward turning, go backwards, go forward turning a third time and then finally we were on the corridor.
I couldn’t help but make a remark “Wow! Quite some turns! Does this happen all the time?”
The nurse replied “ALL the time. The architect really didn’t do a good job designing this place.”
Impact of Design Problems
I heard her. This must be extremely annoying to do this action three times per patient for God knows how many hours and how many days in a row. These are the things I think of that has an impact on:
Time consuming: how much time would she have gained if she was able to do it in one turn? Probably a few seconds, but with every bed, every hour, every day,..
Especially in a hospital time doesn’t only mean money, time means life.
The nurse’s physique: this must weigh down on her after repeating the same action over and over gain. I hope for her the beds roll easily!
The nurse’s mental state: she didn’t snap at me at all, but I think she was overall a bit fed up with the situation, and I can’t blame her.
Imagine if it’s an intern riding a sick patient, not really knowing the rotating shaft of the bed and he/she keeps bumping the wall with the bed? Not pleasant, for neither of the parties.
Bumping into the wall several times causes damage, damage needs to be fixed. Imagine how many doorframes you’d have to fix in the whole hospital.
I’m 100% sure the architect had the best intentions with the hospital, with the users and with the patients. There are numerous studies that describe how wide corridors should be, what the rotating shafts are for vehicles, beds,.. what materials need to be used, how doctors and nurses work ideally,.. But still we had this problem going on in a newly built hospital.
What are solutions to this other than accepting, giving up or breaking out walls? I think every problem is solvable, especially in architecture. Just depends how much money you want to throw at it.
But let’s have a look at this case.
On your left you see the situation I was in. I was in the middle bed. Bear in mind that this is a sketch so ratio’s aren’t perfect. Instead of breaking out a wall to fix the problem there are other reasonable solutions I’m thinking of:
Leave out cabinet on the left side
does that improve the situation? Is the nurse able to use more space in order to make a turn?
Where do nurses keep their materials?
Change bed set up:
2 on the left, 2 on the right for example
Does this improve the situation?
Remove a bed to have more room to change bed set up:
How long do patients wait to go from room A to B?
Can we remove a bed while still remaining up to speed?
Break out wall: probably high cost
Depends on how many points this problem occurs
What to do with dust, noises, other inconveniences in a hospital?
New beds: high cost!
New beds with a different rotating shaft
Are there other solutions you can think of? Of course these solutions apply to this set up. I’m not sure if there are other sections of the hospital that deal with the same issue, but there probably are.
It appears that architecture and design thinking share a common focus on the user experience, but that architects may not always seek out feedback from users after a building is constructed. This could be seen as a missed opportunity to improve the design process and ensure that the end result meets the needs of its intended users.
Design thinking stresses the importance of iteration and adaptation throughout the design process, including after construction is completed and users have moved in. This allows for ongoing testing and feedback, leading to continuous improvement and a better user experience. By embracing this mindset and remaining receptive to feedback from users, architects can ensure that their designs not only look good, but also function well and meet the needs of those who use them.
Thank you for reading!