Within the Washington D.C. metro area, including Northern Virginia and Maryland, there are no less than six local interior design programs. In additional to that, there are at least 12 universities and colleges with programs in architecture, engineering, product design, healthcare policy, and psychology, all of which contribute to and influence the field of healthcare interior design.

When asked to present internally how Perkins+Will’s D.C. healthcare team has engaged academia, I wondered in general: How does the healthcare design industry (and how often do we) engage our local academic community in the design process? And what can these institutions offer?

One project I have been involved in enlisted the skills of educators and their students (both graduate and undergraduate) to perform evaluations. The rationale behind conducting evaluations was to verify our design hypothesis and inform design decisions for the future. By having a third-party perform the task, we reduced any bias that might have arisen commissioning the task ourselves.

Two different groups were welcomed to participate: a local anthropology class focused on the emotions of patients using the space while architecture students gathered information on the impact of design components on all end-users. Both groups were invited early in the design process and chose to perform both pre- and postoccupancy studies in the existing space. The professors were eager to offer a real project for their students to be involved in and the students echoed their professor’s excitement with equal fervor during the process.

To date, we have seen preliminary findings and look forward to a final analysis to share with our client, our firm, and the profession.

This positive experience is just one example of how professionals can tap into the resources contained within the academic community. There is no doubt that universities and colleges hold a wealth of knowledge and resources that can impact healthcare projects in a very real and positive way. I encourage all design professionals to share your experiences with academia and challenge the profession to propose new ways to engage our local academic communities