Don’t we all love a good story? Storytelling is a great way to help people understand an idea and to personalize it.

Stories can make a great addition to healthcare interior design presentations. An effective story should tell what is meaningful to the client and how it relates to the facility, and get the owner excited about the project. What steps can we take to be sure we have created a unique and special solution to the many issues that surround environments in a healthcare facility?

Let’s take a look at the presentation STORY:

S: Strategy

T: Transcend

O: Options

R: Relationships

Y: Yes!

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S: Strategy

Strategy is a word with military origins. It’s a plan of action used to achieve certain identified goals. Yet to be successful, a project strategy must be flexible in order to accommodate the rapid changes in technology and other aspects of healthcare.

Where does the project team start? With communication—robust communication. First and foremost, talk with clients to gain an understanding of their facility, their needs, and their expectations.

To get everyone thinking about what is important to the project, the project team must identify goals (see Figure 1). It must consider how the goals are linked and how to approach the project so that the ultimate solution can combine an exciting story with a happy ending. Next, it’s time for the interior designer to develop a strategy: a plan of action, including the ideas and options for further consideration.

T: Transcend

To transcend the ordinary, the common, and the usual, we need to think outside the box. I love the quote by Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, “Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different.”

Armed with the numerous challenges of healthcare design—the codes, community health issues, budgets, patient privacy concerns, square footage needs, and sustainability desires (to name a few)—the client comes to the interior designer and says, “Here you go. Oh, and by the way, be creative! Make our space flexible for uses we haven’t even considered. Make our space functional, beautiful, and life enhancing. Help us create a space that we can use to recruit and retain staff, and use for marketing our services in this extremely competitive market.” Delivering effective and appealing solutions to these challenges is very satisfying, and for me, being able to affect someone’s healthcare experience in a positive way is as good as it gets.

In order to do this, we must transcend what might be an expected solution and really deliver thought-provoking and exciting solutions: solutions that consider the organization’s history and its future direction; solutions that are functional, sustainable, and beautiful; solutions that are healthful and worthwhile; solutions that elicit positive emotions and let you feel the joy of life; solutions that are innovative; and solutions that inspire and excite.

O: Options

Doesn’t everyone like to have options? Interior designers need to provide enough options to offer viable choices, but not so many that the client is overwhelmed and becomes confused.

Many times, options manifest themselves as themes that offer a meaningful story for the healthcare facility. If the interior designer creates two or three distinct directions, and has in-depth discussions about each one, the team can usually begin to see one theme emerging as the best solution—one that brings a real sense of clarity to the building.

Case in point: Van Andel Institute, an independent biomedical research and education organization in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A multicultural theme provided an opportunity to develop the building design and finishes in a unique way to tell a story of the institute’s amazing diversity: Its staff comes from 19 countries. Establishing the theme up front made it easier for the design team and the client to make design decisions throughout the project, with the result a memorable and cohesive interior environment.

Another example is Resthaven Care Community in Holland, Michigan. This senior living community’s mission is to provide a continuum of quality care and services that demonstrates the love and compassion of Jesus Christ. While translating that into an interior design “story,” I thought of how nature is restorative and healing and that all life is connected by nature.

As I considered how elements of nature could support Resthaven’s mission, a Bible Garden theme emerged. A Bible Garden is comprised of plants that are mentioned in the Old and New Testaments. By applying the theme of the Bible Garden, the design team was able to visually support the Resthaven mission statement (see figures 2-4).

Working through design options is always an exciting process. It can be a tremendous opportunity to assist your client in defining a design approach that will shape the appearance of the facility for years to come as well as provide continuity and direction as the organization works to achieve long-term goals. It can drive actions, decisions and results.

R: Relationships

Developing a solid relationship with your client is a must. You need to love what you do and have that excitement transfer to the client. Be approachable, be friendly, be helpful, and be happy!

How are your communication skills? Do you respond professionally and thoughtfully to your client’s em
ail messages? Can your client count on you for open and honest feedback to their questions and concerns? Have you dedicated yourself to project excellence? Are you taking responsibility for aspects of the project that didn’t go as planned and making sure they are corrected or resolved immediately?

When your name is mentioned, your client should immediately think of the high level of service received from you during all phases of the project. They definitely will want to work with you on their next project and they will recommend you to others, because you brought value to their project. You made the client your fan and they will be loyal to you.

Y: Yes!

What’s a word we all love to hear? YES! After all the hard work, endless hours, details, budgets, schedules, code issues, and emotions, we unwrap the solution. The doors open (or re-open). The project is complete and has changed the facility experience for the better.

“Yes – the patients and their families often comment about what an attractive facility we have and how their needs are met.”

“Yes – the staff appreciates the subtle design touches that make their jobs less stressful and their surroundings safer and more functional.”

“Yes – visitors can find their way around the facility with ease.”

“Yes – we have a cohesive look to the building, but we also have areas with unique finishes to give personality to the facility.”

“Yes – we have a memorable story for staff, patients, visitors; a story reflective of the facility’s culture.”

“Yes – we will work with you again!”

If you make your presentations tell the client’s STORY in a meaningful way, you can expect a happy ending! HCD

Mary Bamborough, IIDA, is director of interior design at GMB Architecture + Engineering in Holland, Michigan. She has 20 years of healthcare interior design experience. For more information, please visit