Lines of Sight

Sometimes a Moment of Connection Matters More Than Great Design

January 2, 2014

Principal, NBBJ

I lay in an MRI machine last week. One more step on a personal patient journey that informs my professional path.

As designers, we fret over everything: from big site issues to the detail of the grout color. Certainly, these are important for a pleasing, functional composition, but this recent event reminded me that to design great experiences, we have to have more in our sightlines than just the architecture.

In an MRI, you lay on a table that moves into a tube of only about 30″ in diameter. It’s tight. And it causes claustrophobia in a lot of people.

For my diagnostics, I was placed face-down with my head in a massage-table-like support that allowed me to keep my eyes open. Face-down is a preferred position partly because patients are less anxious when less aware of the tiny barrel they’re captured in. Reducing anxiety is important to help the patient remain still for the time it takes to get good images.

As I lay in the tube, I noticed a thing new to me. A small mirror had been placed below the head support piece. It was angled so that I could see through the barrel to the radiology tech as he positioned my IV. If he placed himself correctly, we could have made eye contact.

What a small thing. And yet what a difference it made. I felt less alone. I was connected to another person at the very time I needed support. And even though I’m not claustrophobic, it calmed me some to be able to see out of the barrel — to have a vista in front of me that was deeper than ten inches.

So let’s not fool ourselves, designers. I couldn’t tell you what color the floor was or if the ceiling was acoustical tile or if the exterior skin was precast or curtainwall. I simply didn’t register those things in my journey as a patient.

I did register that the tech was friendly and the nurse went out of her way to make me laugh. Although I recall indistinctly that the room was in sore need of an overhaul, the warm attitude of the people diluted my memory of the cold ambiance of the space.

Don’t get me wrong: I firmly believe in the power of design to contribute to the healing process — that architecture can shape events and transform lives. But that day, in that experience, for me personally, the only thing that really gave me comfort was a tiny mirror about as big as a Band-Aid.

So I challenge us moving forward: What small metaphorical Band-Aids can we place well to enhance life and inspire human potential? Is our vista deeper than the 24 inches to our computer screens? What mirrors can we position to see out of our own architectural tube?

Sometimes all it takes is a little bit of reflection.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Share this:  envelope facebook twitter googleplus tumblr linkedin
Follow nbbX