I love words. I have for a very long time. As a kid, trips to the library held a certain kind of wonderment for me. Rows and rows of neatly aligned books just there for the taking with the show of a card, and that distinctive sound of the date-stamp on the card that lived in the back pocket of the book telling you the history of where it’s been and when you needed to return it. Somewhere in my home I even still have my first library card.

To this day, I can spend hours in a bookstore just wandering from section to section looking at all the offerings. I buy far more books than I will ever have the time to read because I am so easily pulled in by the potential that each book holds. It’s amazing how many esoteric topics people have spent their lifetimes researching and writing about that we know absolutely nothing about, but could with just the purchase of a book!

You might even say that I am a collector of words. For decades I have filled scraps of paper with random quotes that inspired me. They hung from a bulletin board above my desk throughout high school; later, the growing collection surrounded my studio space in college. Finally, around the time I bought my first home, I started to copy these random scraps of paper into a notebook that has grown from year to year. To me, a few well chosen words can cause you to look at the world in a different way and can resonate with you for a lifetime. I have always felt it was worth holding on to anything with this power. Mark Twain said it best: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”

Part of what gives words power is the agreed upon definition that people give to those words. In our industry, the concept of evidence-based design is one that we use over and over again and yet, there are as many definitions of evidence-based design as there are people using it. Some of them are short and to the point others go on for paragraphs and paragraphs to describe the subtle intricacies of the concept.

We felt that The Center for Health Design could play a significant role in pulling together a diverse group of industry experts—many of whom have published their own definitions of evidence-based design in their own work—to spend time brainstorming what they would feel comfortable with as an industry-standard definition of evidence-based design. We shared with the group the many definitions that were already out there in the industry, talking through what the essence of the concept really was, knowing that what we were looking for was a definition of evidence-based design in its purest form; one that could apply as easily to healthcare settings as it could to educational settings.

In the end, this diverse group came to a consensus and we would like to share this definition with the readers of HEALTHCARE DESIGN magazine to get your feedback:

“Evidence-based design is the process of basing decisions about the built environment on credible research to achieve the best possible outcomes.”

We welcome your thoughts on this definition. We know that it is broad, but the panel of experts felt that additional bullet points could be added to the definition to share sample outcomes for any specific industry. In healthcare, examples could be reducing the spread of infections or medical errors. In educational facilities, they could be higher test scores or lower absenteeism in students. In the end, it’s about the process of how we make design decisions.

Please feel free to share your thoughts with me at dlevin@healthdesign.org. I’d love to hear what words you have to share about this definition or any topic interesting to you that impacts the work we all do. HD

The Center for Health Design is located in Concord, California.

For more information, visit http://www.healthdesign.org.


“Evidence-based design is the process of basing decisions about the built environment on credible research to achieve the best possible outcomes.”


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Healthcare Design 2008 August;8(8):8