How designers impact the health of their clients

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By Linda Kafka, WELL AP, CLIPP, CAPS


The successful architectural and interior design of today and tomorrow largely depend upon the health and wellness of its users. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the benefits of family and moreover, their health and well-being. And who better is it in the hands of if not architects and designers? To support this, Dr. Claudia Miller from the University of Texas School of Medicine stated, “Architects and designers have a greater ability to improve public health than medical professionals.” Designing for well-being offers a preventative approach to good health that helps offset the need for medical intervention by lowering stress and increasing serotonin.

The urgent need to think about the future begins today. Whether it is about the neuro aesthetics aspect of a space, sensory design, or designing for progressive conditions like dementia. Designers have the potential to think beyond a mere box to solve worldly problems—especially in the present era where the sense of being, thoughtfulness, and wellness are primary. From stepping into the clients’ shoes to understanding their needs, requirements, environment, and community simultaneously—the designer’s role plays quite far beyond.

Health and well-being

There are numerous ways a designer can play with space that can help improve the health and well-being of its users. First and foremost being the incorporation of biophilia and direct connectivity with nature. There is a certain sense of calmness from the natural elements that hit the neuroreceptors of the brain that helps calm down the person. The idea of connecting to nature by spending time in the forest—Shinrin Yoku or forest bathing—has been prescribed by Japanese doctors since the late ’80s. We also know that doctors in Canada have been authorized by their governing body to prescribe trips to museums, art galleries and design centres to reduce stress instead of prescribing pills. Thus, thoughtful, innovative design through the use of natural elements or the use of biomimicry (the design and production of materials, structures, and systems that are modelled on biological entities and processes) can shape how we feel and what we experience within a physical space. Apart from this, focusing on factors such as natural light and playing with the scale and perspective of space can further enhance the appearance.

Universal design is another important aspect that needs utmost attention. Since this concept follows the principles of equality – it offers a solution for everyone on the planet. Whether temporarily disabled or permanently, the designer must look through their eyes to design an empathetic yet sensory space. Moreover, there are certain colours and patterns that intrigue a human brain – for instance, reds have been known to symbolize anger and energy, while blue symbolizes calm and peace. While there is no definitive scientific evidence that colour heals, we do know that colour affects behavior. The colour of a space is just one factor that contributes to a person’s mental health, but it is an important one, says Dr. John Ziesel, author and President of Hearthstone Alzheimer Care. “The designed environment plays a role in learning, remembering, feelings, relating to others and behaviour,” he adds.

Healing and wellness

Diving further into the details, material specifications further help spruce up a space in terms of healing and wellness. Mainly, contribution towards air quality standards and banning materials like asbestos, and reducing exposure to formaldehyde (especially in furniture) may lead to a healthy environment. Abiding by the Public Health standards (whether from Canada or the U.S.) and maintaining minimum requirements in terms of VOC limits for interior paints, coatings, adhesives, sealants, insulation and even flooring used – a designer can help foster a clean and healthy environment.

Furthermore, apart from VOCs, designers must keep in mind ample ventilation, humidity control, and even a cleanable environment. Mainly, avoiding the use of wall-to-wall carpeting and only using materials that have hard surfaces with easier cleaning abilities. Another way one can design for wellness is by considering the aspects of sound and light in a building. In the commercial sector, there is a requirement of compliance with local requirements. However, there are no compliances for lighting and sound when it comes to the residential sector. Therefore, it is a must that the designer uses best practices and can draw upon the commercial sector for ideas. In addition, designers should consider ergonomic not only in furnishings but in other design elements such as counter heights, adjustable desks and so on. This can both give long-term benefits to its users. Hence, undoubtedly, a designer has a bigger role to play in impacting the health of their clients. After all, they have the ability to see through the health and wellbeing lens to improve their client’s health.

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Linda Kafka
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