Name: Nicholas Watkins

Award: The HCD 10: Researcher, 2013

Then and now: Director of research, BBH Design (Raleigh, N.C.)

What he’s been up to: Joined BBH Design in April 2013 as principal and director of research, where he’s worked with such clients as Cleveland Clinic, UPMC, Novant Health, and New York City Health and Hospitals Corp. on projects varying from system-wide guidelines to inpatient hospital design to clinic design; and served as one of the developers of Environmental Design Research Association’s Certificate of Research Excellence (CORE) program.

What’s one of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the design of healthcare spaces since you won your award, and how has it affected what you do?

Design research has moved away from the marketing hype toward a valued service. This has been good; however, there’s less time to contribute material to refereed formats. An additional challenge is that research may be valued, but it may be overly ambitious to think it’s a magic pill that will change the pernicious course of decreasing fees and unsustainable business models in design practice. The optimistic side of me thinks research may help bring public and monetary value back to a profession that has been grossly devalued over the last several decades. New research tools and changes to the design delivery process are making this possible in design practice, but movement really needs to start with more effective advocacy and lobbying by the accreditation and licensing organizations.

What’s on your radar screen in 2016?

I’m excited by opportunities to measure the impact of public health and healthcare within communities and across markets. After all, we do spend a lot of time inside our homes, workplaces, and schools and not in healthcare facilities. In turn, we are cultivating an opportunity to share these and other industry findings in an authoritative text to guide students and the industry.

At the time of your award, you were co-authoring a paper to be published for the McGraw-Hill Research Foundation that aimed to provide a primer and roadmap to designers and engineers on how to use design research to create “accountable design for accountable care.” How have your lobbying efforts evolved?

Much of my lobbying for design research has shifted toward cultivating fundamentals that with time will bring back value to the devalued practice of architecture. The current generation of design students is the canary in the coal mine. It’s sobering to think that practices are competing with universities and colleges for work and that we in practice are then challenged to hire students from these institutions. I hope we can fairly leverage design research within the schools and the practice of architecture to the benefit of everyone. We should aspire for the next generation of designers to be proud of their work and earn a wage comparable to other professions that demand as much mastery and as many qualifications.

For more Q+As with past recipients of Healthcare Design’s professional awards programs, check out "Master Class."