In our last HEALTHCARE DESIGN article, “Research in Practice: Lesson 2—You got a problem?” we discussed why and how to identify and prioritize the challenges facing a facility. Each problem we uncover brings opportunities for design innovations. Now that we can define the problem, it’s important to learn techniques to test these innovations.
Each day, millions of us step onto aircraft, trusting we’ll safely arrive at our destination. We put our lives in the hands of the pilots, crew, and engineers. It would be silly to think of the latest Boeing 787 being released to the public without thorough prototyping and safety checks. Likewise, countless patients fill our hospital rooms daily. They trust they’ll receive the best possible care, yet few of the environments we create are tested for their ability to facilitate care and healing processes.
As in aeronautics, there are ways to test-drive a facility or renovation. Simulations and mock-ups allow for testing of design and operational concepts. Test-drives provide the opportunity to take a project to a new destination and inspire design innovation. They can validate design decisions without the risk of full implementation in a building project.
In this article, we demystify simulations and provide practical advice on maximizing the benefits of test-driving your planned facility.
Whether it’s an aircraft or hospital, each simulation is based on an underlying model. For aircraft testing, we might think of a small model of a plane, tested in a wind tunnel that simulates real-world scenarios. This model is an abstraction of a real-world system (i.e., the built plane), with underlying assumptions (i.e., plane shape, material) that represent how the system behaves. In this case, the simulation is the act of repeatedly testing the plane in the wind tunnel. We can use the results of these tests to draw conclusions about how the plane will act in the real world.
Models are not just physical: They can also be virtual, computational, or numeric. In our 2012 article, published in the Health Environments Research and Design (HERD) Journal, we identified four primary types of simulations and mock-ups used in design: (1) physical mock-ups; (2) virtual mock-ups; (3) dynamic simulation models; and (4) static simulation models.
From the pilot’s seat: Mock-ups
Mock-ups are a type of experience-based model, focusing on the sensory experience of the space. In a plane, this would be the pilot’s distance from control panels, ease of changing altitude, and the readability of the dashboard. Mock-ups transform line drawings into a three-dimensional understanding of space and use. Here, teams can discuss implications of design decisions, manipulate the environment, and test possible design changes.
There are two types of mock-ups: physical and virtual. Physical mock-ups are built in full scale and can be directly experienced by all the senses. These mock-ups can fall into three stages or categories based on their use and level of sophistication: simple, detailed, and live. A simple mock-up is typically constructed of foam core, cardboard, simple props, and print outs, including tape on the floor and walls. These models are inexpensive and easy to manipulate and as such can be empowering to the design group, who can adjust the mock-ups in real time.
Detailed mock-ups are the second level of sophistication and provide a realistic representation of the final design. These mock-ups help the team consider the materiality of the space and choose color palettes, finishes, and equipment placement. They provide an excellent platform for running care simulation scenarios and allow the team to verify that design decisions made in the simple mock-up still hold once the details are added.