Low back seating provides a clear line of sight for reception staffAn inclusive approach to design provides new challenges and opportunities to use creativity and lateral thinking to address the true breadth of human diversity.

Design in healthcare environments is evolving. With bodies like The King’s Fund supporting considerable research into service redesign it has become clear that the health needs of our population are changing, and fast. Outdated buildings, interiors and services can prove detrimental to patient and staff well being, which in turn affects outcomes, morale and efficiency.

What is inclusive design?

Inclusive design means involving as many people as practicable in the initial process. That means taking the time out to speak and work with staff, clinicians, managers, patients, caregivers and the community. Within these conversations it is possible to eliminate assumed requirements and focus on real and sometimes overlooked needs.

Often unlikely and ‘non-expert’ service users come up with the most lateral and creative solutions to their own problems. That ‘What if we could…’ moment empowers people to speak out about their needs, promoting social cohesion and a sense of ownership.

Inclusive design acknowledges the diversity within a project. The complex needs of patients within a department can be fully addressed, taking into account mobility, dexterity and sensory issues, learning difficulties and mental health support. Often these scenarios are quite unique but because of the inclusive input at the initial stages, the design outcome can be broad and encompassing, integrating the able and less-able in a supportive way.

Staff and clinicians also have valuable insight that, with guidance in a workshop or similar scenario, can be used to address the barriers that currently inhibit their ability to perform their role optimally. From the porter transferring patients to the surgeon’s complex and busy schedule, efficiencies and best practice in the day to day running of a department are the ultimate operational goal of many projects.

A skilled designer or design team will gather the information and findings, and translate them into a functional design.

In a reality where cost and budget are so important, why turn to inclusive design?

Using inclusive design methodology provides environments that are effective, efficient and satisfying to use and work within. Where it is vital that investment has to deliver, inclusive design offers commissioners an opportunity to engage all stakeholders to produce a design that really works for their unique communities and departments.