By Andrea Kingsbury, IIDA, LEED AP ID+C, Interior Designer
Anyone who knows me knows I am a gadget nerd. From the latest iPhone release to my Bluetooth-powered coffee mug, I love what technology brings to the modern world.
The Rise of Technology
The advancement of technology has drastically changed our behaviors over the last 35 years. In 1984, only 8% of households owned a personal computer1. In 2019, we carry cell phones in our pocket that are millions of times more powerful than all of the computing technology at NASA in 19692 when man landed on the moon.
So it should be no surprise that younger generations will not only be more adept at using technology but that it will bring them education, socialization, comfort, and joy. Generation Alpha, or those born after 2010 (the same year Apple released the first iPad), will only know a world where technology has improved and enriched their lives.
Marketers have quickly jumped on this trend and are seeking to understand more about what this emerging generation wants and needs. If kids younger than 10 are already huge influencers in household purchasing decisions and behaviors3, then we as designers also need to understand what this generation expects from their built environments.
Let’s compare an average sick day for a child at home and one for a child in the hospital. At home, children will use tablets, phones, and gaming consoles to occupy themselves while recovering in bed. In a hospital, pediatric patient rooms resemble rooms designed for adults with perhaps a “fun color” or color-changing lights and a wall-mounted television.
While I agree that pediatric spaces allow for more vibrant color schemes and playful design choices, painting a wall bright green and adding a swirling floor pattern does little to stimulate the recovery of the patient who would much rather be running through the park playing Pokémon Go or challenging their friends in Fortnite.
Guiding Principles for Pediatric Design
In addition to creating aesthetically pleasing and playful environments, designers should look to inspire hope, creativity, and interaction for pediatric patients. To accomplish this, it will be necessary as these forthcoming generations grow to combine medical care with technology for patient engagement. In addition to commonly used healthcare design principles such as access to natural light, acoustics, and privacy, consider these concepts when designing for younger patients.
1. Create a Sense of Normalcy
If on a normal day a child uses YouTube as their television, interacts with friends through online games, and uses social media to chat and share with friends, isolating them to a patient room with limited access to the outside world leads to feelings of detachment and boredom. Designs that provide ample charging areas for devices, adjustable overbed tables for computers and tablets, and wall-mounted monitors that can connect to the patients’ own technologies give the user more control and ownership over their environment, making them more comfortable. The more at ease a patient is, the faster they will heal.
The University of Connecticut Children’s Hospital recently teamed with Dimensional Innovations to create Wilderverse4, an interactive gaming experience for patients. With custom avatars, the game lets patients control their own characters and interact with others from their treatment space. This personalized experience not only engages the pediatric patient in a way that feels normal, natural, and fun, it encourages interaction with others and provides a positive distraction while receiving medical care.
2. Provide Flexible Social Spaces
For families who may be spending weeks or months at a time in a healthcare facility, flexible work, play, and sharing spaces allow patients and their loved ones the ability to return to everyday life. Multidisciplinary space for support programs, community organizations, and educational groups bring classrooms to the patient to minimize the impact of time spent away recovering.
These areas also offer the ability to host birthday parties, study sessions, and other group activities, as socialization serves as a positive distraction that aids the healing process. By integrating Smartboards or other interactive touch screens these spaces become a dynamic learning environment or opportunity for group play.
3. Engage the Senses
Regardless of age, everyone responds to sensory influences. Actively engaging the senses of pediatric patients offers a welcome distraction from the healthcare setting. In addition to the use of personalized lighting controls that allow users to control everything from light levels to light color, and personalized air controls within patient rooms for maximum comfort, the use of gesture-tracking technology has gained popularity in pediatric spaces.
Utilizing a blank wall or floor space, surfaces are turned into canvases for interactive motion art or playful games. And because this technology tracks one’s motions to operate the system, there is no need for touching the controls, which can lead to the spread of infection.
As marketers, analysts, and designers have spent the past few years trying to nail down “what millennials want,” it’s time to forget all that and prepare for what this forthcoming generation of consumers, the Alpha Generation, will demand from their environments.