The industry has recently taken a keen interest in what keeps healthcare professionals up at night. In hope of shedding light on this topic, HDR recently conducted a survey asking pediatric care providers this very question (the full report can be found here).

This particular inquiry and recent editorials about the “science” of design got me to thinking about what keeps me up at night. Given my dual role as a practicing architect and a researcher, it’s “how to best integrate the value of research into the creative design process.”

In my view, high-quality research should be interwoven throughout the design process, contributing to problem definition and establishment of viable goals, assessment and synthesis of evidence and precedence, definition of metrics to evaluate achievement of targeted design outcomes, and, ultimately, substantive contribution to the industry’s body of knowledge.

Perhaps partly due to a misconception that research produces pre-prescribed “answers,” some worry that research could trivialize the role of the designer and dampen design intuition. The reality is that research provides evidentiary input that requires knowledgeable interpretation and creative application in design—and, hopefully, such a research-engaged process will lead to better design.

There can be no prescribed path to a design solution, but there can be an informed one that sparks innovation and produces measurable results.

So, how can we best work with designers to interpret and translate findings from rigorous scientific studies to design in such a way that they are consumable, enlightening, and well-used, rather than seen as purely academic or another set of rules akin to codes and regulations?

Writing findings for publication in a peer-reviewed journal is important for disseminating knowledge to the industry in a credible way, but it isn’t necessarily the optimal way to communicate discovery with a designer. What’s a better mechanism for this?

At HDR, we’re testing the inclusion of researchers in the pre-design and conceptual design phases instead of waiting until later in the process or engaging them during post-occupancy.  We’re also exploring ways to include illustrated examples that enhance findings and recommendations in our research reports in more visual way.

Research has shown that all humans need a certain amount of quality sleep each night. Discovering the secret of how to break down the language barrier between science and design will help me rest better.

Sheila Elijah-Barnwell, PhD, AIA, EDAC, LEED AP, is senior vice president and director of research and education at HDR. She can be reached at