Understanding the human experience in healthcare planning and design is essential to creating spaces that meet the needs of users. While human experience in healthcare includes staff, patients, and family members, this article will focus primarily on staff experience to assess how this affects design outcomes.

Identifying the human experience begins in the pre-design stage by looking at three basic criteria:

  • Satisfaction (overall building design features)
  • Well-being (overall sense that people have in a space)
  • Productivity/job performance (how the facility enables staff to efficiently deliver care).

Each aspect of the human experience can be evaluated and quantified. Surveys and user discussions groups are great pre-design evaluation steps to gather human experience data, which then can be used to establish design guidelines. These evaluation steps need to be taken early in the design process and then be followed by a post-occupancy evaluation once the space is operational.

The University of California-Berkeley’s Center for the Built Environment (CBE) staff satisfaction survey is beneficial because it’s a standardized, validated survey that provides objective, quantifiable data that assesses staff’s current-state perceptions and needs. In the pre-design phase, the survey can be distributed to staff to assess their current work environment. Once the survey is complete, the results can be used to guide follow-up interviews and discussions with user groups to establish design criteria used in schematic design through design development and final construction documentation.

The survey includes questions about overall satisfaction along with satisfaction related to air quality, thermal comfort, ergonomic layout, space planning, adjacencies, acoustics, lighting conditions, daylighting, furniture and finishes, cleanliness and maintenance, aesthetics, and access to outdoor spaces.

Respondents answer questions using a scale from -3 to +3. In addition, there are questions to rate the importance of a particular feature. This helps focus how results are used. For example, if a feature has low satisfaction scores but is also identified as less important, then less priority can be given to it and more attention given to features that rank low in satisfaction but high in importance.

The results can be analyzed to focus on likely predictors of satisfaction, which the design team can use while planning the facility. Common top predictors are acoustics and noise, space for equipment, ability to easily collaborate and concentrate, daylighting and quality of electric lighting, furniture, air quality, and connections to the outdoors.

Satisfaction, well-being, and workflow productivity
Since there are many things to consider about the human experience, architects should focus attention on the three key metrics of staff satisfaction tied to a building: Does it improve patient care and staff satisfaction? Does the building help promote a feeling of well-being? Does it help staff do their jobs productively?

By planning and designing for the human experience—in this case the staff experience—healthcare owners can use the survey results to identify the most efficient workflow processes, thus eliminating unnecessary workflow steps and unnecessary square footage. The end result is  more functional spaces with improved workflow efficiency, right-sized spaces, and fixed and flexible spaces that help caregivers deliver better care to patients—and ultimately influence a positive work experience.

As we see from such surveys, human experience can be measured, and data from evaluation methods can help predict how well a design will likely produce a positive human experience.

Case study
HGA recently distributed a survey to staff during the pre-design phase for a major healthcare provider. The results showed that ease of interaction with coworkers achieved a high level of satisfaction, but lighting quality, amount of daylight, visual privacy, temperature, air quality, visual comfort, furnishings, acoustical privacy, and noise level didn’t meet industry benchmark standards.

Using the survey data, design criteria were developed and presented to stakeholders and user focus groups. This process led to such features as a strong connection between indoor and outdoor spaces, increased daylight, occupant-controlled temperature, air quality improvement, and acoustical treatment.

A full-size mock-up of a patient room was built to test design scenarios. The survey results were used during evaluations of the mock-ups. As the project continued, the survey results have contributed to shaping the final design by focusing more attention on the human experience for the staff. The same survey is planned to be distributed to staff in a post-occupancy evaluation, to measure improvements between the existing hospital and the planned replacement hospital.

Built to last
Healthcare facilities must provide a positive human experience. By focusing on the three metrics of human experience—satisfaction, well-being, and productivity—pre-design surveys can help produce exceptional indoor environments by identifying design goals that support users’ needs. And once the building is complete, post-occupancy surveys can determine if benchmarks were achieved and assist in making design refinements to optimize building performance.


Patrick Thibaudeau, CSI, CCS, LEED Fellow AP BD+C, is vice president of sustainable design for HGA Architects and Engineers (Minneapolis). He can be reached at pthibaudeau@hga.com. Kara Freihoefer, PhD, EDAC, LEED AP ID+C, is a design researcher specializing in evidenced-based design, user experience, and human interaction with the built environment with HGA Architects and Engineers (Milwaukee). She can be reached at kfreihoefer@hga.com.