Clients have often asked me “what is timeless design?” At one time, that may have been an easy question to answer. But new factors influencing healthcare design are changing the concept of timeless design.

As we slowly emerge from the “Great Recession” and look toward the prospects of healthcare reform, the healthcare industry is on the verge of a paradigm shift. Ready answers from the past may no longer be valid in the current or future state.

Rapid changes in technology, the economy, healthcare reform, aging baby boomers, budget/staff cuts, shifting demographics and social networking are all impacting the healthcare industry.

As healthcare designers, we can become trusted advisers to our clients to help them shift through the new social/economic changes and help reshape healthcare delivery in the future.

I can’t say what the face of healthcare design will look like 10 or 20 years from now, but I can suggest that flexibility will be essential to cost-effective design, from in-patient units to community clinics—and even home-based care.

Yet flexibility may be more than just considering a balance between soft spaces vs. hard spaces, modular layouts vs. permanent layouts.

A design colleague specializing in higher education recently said that there is essentially a new generation on college campuses every seven years, with new concepts of how to use spaces to meet their needs. Designing today for an unknown tomorrow is the challenge in higher education.

The same may be said for healthcare design. Variable factors are essentially forcing us to constantly re-evaluate how to use spaces. The new “timeless design” may be flexible design. But ultimately, what is flexible design?