What Data Can Do for Healthcare Design — And What It Can’t

How to Balance Intuition with Data: an Discussion with Metropolis Magazine

February 7, 2017

Digital Practice Leader, NBBJ



Editor’s Note: At NBBJ, we’re at the forefront of using research and technology to drive breakthroughs in healthcare, from streamlining the design process with virtual reality, to incorporating digital analytics in healthcare planning. At the same time, we know technology isn’t the only tool for solving healthcare challenges — after all, studies show the most effective care occurs when caregivers themselves are satisfied.

This week, we’re highlighting some of the human factors that must be paired with data and technology in order to bring healthcare into the future. In a recent Metropolis Think Tank event, publisher and editor in chief Susan S. Szenasy discussed the use of data in design with Eric Socolofsky, design technologist with Stamen Design; Michael Kaiser, M.D., former healthcare strategy director of NBBJ; and Marc Syp, a creative technologist and design computation leader with NBBJ. An excerpt from their discussion follows; the complete transcript can be found at Metropolis.  


Susan S. Szenasy: Let’s talk a little about energy use in hospitals. How do you use data to address its overuse? And how do your decisions affect hospital design?

Marc Syp: We’re looking at those issues in hospital renovations as well as new buildings. One of the things that a lot of our tools have in common, in terms of generating analyses and data about our designs, is that they’re trying to push all those issues much further upstream in the conceptual design process. Visualization is super important. A client always has competing interests in terms of what they’re trying to solve. If we can get all of those things on the table at the beginning, they’re much more likely to be respected or to impact the decision making.

Michael Kaiser: From a client perspective, I think some of the problem lies in the failed model of having operating costs in one bucket and renovation costs in another. The more a firm like NBBJ can tie those two buckets together in a presentation, the more understanding the client might have that it’s necessary to pay more up-front in order to get the long-term operational savings, whether that be in energy or some other factors.


Susan S. Szenasy: There’s a third bucket that we don’t often talk about, and that’s staffing. This obsession with Return-on-Investment can be damaging to great humanistic design. How do you measure ROI while making sure the nurses are happy, healthy, and taking care of their patients?

Eric Socolofsky: For what it’s worth, I think that architects and designers in general are in a unique position to be able to convince their clients that every answer isn’t in the data. There’s a reason why we have design training, and that is to apply our knowledge and past experiences to help guide decisions down paths that may be tangential or parallel to what the data is suggesting, but we know that there’s a greater responsibility to not just adhere to what the data is telling us to do.

Marc Syp: When designers don’t compliment complement data sets with their excellent intuition, they latch onto the data part and think that everything has to be a data-driven decision. The fact is that you’re never going to be able to quantify every point in your design equation. If you try to, you lose the ability to make the kinds of decisions that would probably be of great benefit to you.

Visit Metropolis for more.

Image courtesy of Pexels.

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