Pinch yourself. It is hard to believe that a research revolution in design practice occurred during the worst economy since the Great Depression. But it did.
Out of necessity or ingenuity, savvy companies dipped their toes into the design research ocean. Some took deep dives into design research. Those that braved the waters quickly learned what consumer goods, engineering, and pharmaceutical industries have known for a long time: Research creates a better product and innovations. This pays off.
As research in practice quickly becomes the mainstream, what are the best tactics? Some organizations have absorbed research into their existing fee structure as a differentiator on project delivery. Others have crafted nonprofit consulting divisions whose efforts support staff on the for-profit side. Yet others offer research on a for-profit consulting basis or have used research primarily as a marketing tool.
Finally, there are a rare few that have taken the initial steps to develop true research and development (R&D) groups.
Research in practice has been branded in many ways. They include evidence-based design, salutogenic design, generative space, design research, and others. However, all have a common origin in the field of environmental psychology. Organizations like the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) and International Association for People-Environment Studies have been the wellsprings of environmental psychologists for several decades.
About this series
This is the first in a series of articles to appear in HEALTHCARE DESIGN that provides practical advice for successfully implementing research in architectural practice. The articles’ material comes from the diverse and real-world experiences of researchers in practice at HOK.
Case studies from recently completed and ongoing healthcare design projects will illustrate important and unique ways research contributes to building project delivery, including renovations, guideline development, and greenfield projects. The position of the authors is that research is an essential service architecture firms provide in collaboration with clients, organizations, and academic institutions.
The service informs design decisions made during project delivery and leads to the best possible product.
Using data makes cents
Once a research project is complete, there is a lot of data to sift through. Much of this data is combed through to find particular nuggets of information that are relevant to the design project at hand. When the project is over, the rest of the data can often sit dormant. Moreover, there may be data collected from other and similar design projects that can collect and lay dormant.
In today’s market,it does not make sense or cents to let hard-earned data go dormant. First, the same data can be used in several different analyses over several years. This maximizes the value of the data for future projects and its return on investment.
Second, having results from data can spell the difference between winning and losing the next job. Trust in design solutions now comes from having real numbers from the field to back ideas proposed to clients. Clients want to know if a solution works in their unique organizational circumstances.
The first contribution to this series of articles will start with the heart of any research and development program with a vital pulse: master databases. An author of this article has performed several post-occupancy evaluations of medical-surgical inpatient units. For each client, data is analyzed and research findings are summarized in reports to guide design decision-making during project delivery.
The data from each hospital is comparable, because the team used the same questionnaires and work sampling techniques for each inpatient unit. Consequently, researchers were able to collapse all the data into one master database.