By David P. Hutcheson, AIA, LEED AP

In the landscape of corporate America, there are some well-known examples of “design-centric” companies. At the top of this list, behemoths such as Nike, Amazon, Apple, and Google have famously stocked their campuses full of architectural eye candy and user-friendly amenities. They all have strategically invested truckloads of money carefully nurturing their identity as innovators in design and have done so with such success that some even conduct tours.

But it certainly wasn’t always that way. In their early days as startup companies, their focus was on product development and collecting the mightiest brains to help pave the way to be the powerhouses they are today. However, I would venture to say that, at some period in those early days, either the founders decided or a close and trusted advisor (maybe their architect) was able to educate them on why the value of design should be a guiding mantra.

If we’re lucky enough during our professional careers, a client comes along that understands the value of good design and is an enthusiastic collaborator. He has seen that the increased ceiling height permits more daylight to penetrate further into the public waiting areas and staff workspaces. He has been able to step out of the main corridor and into an adjacent windowed alcove to discuss ideations with fellow physicians. And he has noted how populated the roof terraces have become since they have been elegantly landscaped. It’s the way the signage has been crafted, the use of dynamic fabrics or the sophisticated wood accent walls, the subdued lighting in the patient rooms and the way noise has been dampened. Because there is a price tag for many of these enhancements, there is a risk involved that many clients don’t wish to manage. 

The healing qualities of sunlight, views of or access to the outdoors, noise reduction, and the presence of natural materials have been shown to have a positive influence on staff retention. They’ve elevated patient survey scores and lowered the number of staff sick days. Marketing these improvements has also elevated the hospital’s brand within the community at large and increased admissions. The public inherently recognizes that, although the amenities may not have been necessary for the hospital to function as such, they applaud their holistic approach of being sensitive to users’ well-being…which is a primary function of the facility, after all. 

I think that one of my basic challenges as a designer is to create a platform that will inspire the occupant to realize her full potential while housed in those imagined spaces. This requires my looking beyond the shelter essentials and braving the world of possibility and seizing on opportunity. What are those universal elements that we all find inspiring? How does culture influence those perceptions, and how do I remove my own biases to allow opportunities for those that I am designing for? These questions describe the more obvious challenges of design. The designer’s more sublime “hidden” challenge is in convincing the skeptical client that these “extras” might, in fact, have a positive impact well beyond the bottom line.