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Use and design: two points of view

I’m following the CMI-NEN project in my PhD, a healthcare facility that combines research, education, and care services in one place.

The project is very innovative because it links medical image research to care demand. The concept is to drive research with the actual use of diagnosing technologies, instead of just exploring what is possible with current and upcoming technologies.

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The concept is neat, but not trivial. To keep up this loop, it is necessary to have highly motivated peers in every step. That is why the project is made up of a tight partnership between the University, equipment manufacturers, and associated hospitals. All of these stakeholders must be committed to collaborating in order to generate mutual benefits.

I’ve been following the facility design since last year. The discussion was pretty much technical at the beginning. Architects, engineers, equipment manufacturers exchanged requirements and design proposals. Not much was said about the use of the facilities.

We from VISICO suggested involving users in the design process, but at first the project managers didn’t like the idea so much. They were already overwhelmed by too much information and conflicting requirements. After one year, the CHOIR group came into the project and started to put questions about the care operations. This Applied Mathematics research group makes discrete simulations to optimize patient flow, waiting queues, planning capacity, and so on. This is an example from another University:

The project managers could not answer all the questions asked by the mathematicians because they lacked information. VISICO researchers suggested again to involve users in order to feed the mathematical models. This time the suggestion was taken and we had a workshop with the managers, care providers (users), and the mathematicians. The floor plan of the new building was presented and discussed with the participants.

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The managers were very open to the comments and repeated many times: “we haven’t thought about this before”. The point of view of design is quite often different than the point of view of use. This workshop helped the managers (and other participants) immerse themselves into the use situation and imagine scenarios to see if the proposed floor plan could fit: “if I’m a patient and I bring my family, where will they wait for me while I do my tomography?”

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I noticed that the printed floor plan allowed a very accurate visualization of the space, but it was difficult for participants to realize spatial dimensions. Participants disagreed many times; what was small for one was big for another. The lack of a reference point to relate to human body dimensions was really missing there. The way people relate to the environment in everyday life is not the way it is described by planners, as Lefebvre revealed in the past.

In the end, the managers had mixed feelings about the workshop results: one hand, they got valuable information to perfect the design, but on the other hand they realized they will have a lot of rework to do with the architects and engineers. They commented that they wanted to do this workshop before, but due to political articulation, it was only possible to involve these users now.

There will be new workshops in the upcoming months. I hope I can help to visualize some use scenarios through computer visualizations. My intention is to help participants adopt the complementary point of view of use before the design is done.

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