It makes me feel guilty that anybody should have such a good time doing what they are supposed to do. - Charles Eames

Designer is a tricky term. To some it means the someone who makes clothing. For others it is synonymous with architecture, or the person who picks out the furnishings inside of a building. It might also be a person who does graphics for the web.

Charles Eames made his name by designing a chair. He, and his wife Ray, went on to usher in post modern architecture with their iconic Eames House. They created films for international diplomacy efforts, for IBM trade shows and, when captivated by spinning toy tops, for their own amusement.

When they hosted dinner parties, Ray’s table settings were meticulously whimsical. They featured hodgepodge of vases, plates, candles and utensils as thought out as a surgeons tools and as visually rich as an impressionists painting.

Above all else, they wanted people to feel good about viewing, using and interacting with the things they created. And why shouldn’t they? The Eames had too much fun creating them in the first place.

That’s design.

Their story, and certainly their talents, should be inspiring to anyone who do work which affects people. And, really, isn’t what healthcare is?

Eventually everything connects - people, ideas, objects. - Charles Eames

Eventually, we will all be a patient. Eventually, someone will take our pulse, or prick our finger. If we are lucky, that’s the limit of our experience…for a while. But the reality is, most of us, at some point, will interact with healthcare spaces, services, objects, and workers in much more detail. Eventually, we will find ourselves in a hospital bed, with frequent office visits and that proverbial brown bag of perscription bottles with unpronouncable names.

How do we want people to feelabout their healthcare experiences? The Eames were very clear about the intent of their work. It should make people feel good, and, in doing so, they felt good about doing it.

I’ve written about this concept several times when writing about design. It’s important. Maybe the most important thing about designing in healthcare. Healing, or helping elevate pain, is solely about improving how someone feels. And, that, as a healthcare worker, that should feel good to do.

The Vanity of designing for pleasure… - Charles Eames

Designing for pleasure. What a wonderful phrase. It implies a higher order. Something more lofty than function alone. It’s one thing to create a chair which is ergonomic, or a video which shows off IBM’s latest mainframe. It’s another thing entirely to produce furniture so wonderful to look at, touch and sit in, it is still a top seller nearly 60 years later. In their many IBM films, their goal wasn’t to shill for Big Blue. It was to create something as interesting to watch as an oscar winning movie. Eames was so particularly about the viewer’s experience, he hired his own greeters for theaters and immersed himself in the layout of the seats and screens. Experience was that important.

Don’t we have the same obligation in Healthcare? Shouldn’t people feel good about being in our spaces, talking with our staff and providers and interacting with our equipment?

That’s what thinking like a designer is all about. We don’t have to label ourselves, or wear rimless glasses and pinstripe suits. We just need to think like Charles and Ray Eames. How would I want to experience this space? Is the checkin window inviting, or off putting? Do I feel comfortable in this treatment room, comfortable enough to disrobe and let someone examine me?

It’s a skill each of us has, although we rarely allow ourselves the vanity of designing for pleasure. Give it a try. Sit in your hospital’s lobby or ER. Observe for an hour, or day, or more. What details do you see? How do people move in the space? What does that loud TV do to conversations? What little details does your eye see which seem out of place? Chances are, patients and visitors see them too.

When we get more practiced at design thinking, we don’t have to limit ourselves to visual elements. Consider processes. Is your billing process designed to make life easier for you, insurance companies or patients? What about referrals? What would you prefer - to be given a name, or for someone to make a phone call on your behalf and offer to follow up with you directly?

Design thinking, the Eames way, is about creating things which make people feel good. That kind of design may mean rethinking entire services. Should people even come into a hospital for this, or should we even have a doctor doing that? Asking those kinds of questions and lookin at every little detail isn’t easy. But when you get it right….wow, does that feel good!

To get inspired, check out Eames: The Architect and the Painter. It’s an entertaining look at the couple, their work, influences and challenges. It is available on Netflix iTunes, or DVD purchase on Amazon