Some of healthcare design's most popular ideas—from acuity adaptable rooms to natural light-infused patient rooms and waiting areas—have benefits that touch patients and families, as well as the staff members delivering care. It’s a win-win situation.

But I always like to find examples that show a willingness to go a step further or rethink an aspect of design that’s such “the norm” that no one questions whether it could be better. I was fascinated by a recent article in Fast Company about how Nest CEO Tony Fadell (A.K.A. the “father of the iPod) turned his skills to rethinking the smoke detector–a device in what he calls the "unloved" category. (And why has it taken us so long to rethink this vital piece of equipment so that it’s easier to silence when it’s just toast burning in the kitchen?)

One area in healthcare design that I might call “unloved” would be the stairway. I’m not talking about the ones leading from the grand lobby to a second floor landing, but the ones stashed at the end of corridors that seem like an after-thought and are hard places for people to find and, thus, use.

In a recent interview with Matthew Miller, project director, Kaiser Permanente, on the organization’s new Westside Medical Center in Hillsboro, Ore., he talked about efforts to encourage the use of these areas, as part of Kaiser's Thrive Campaign, by making them places that aren’t scary, drab, and otherwise unpleasant.

For starters, several of the stairways have windows with views to the picturesque Pacific Northwest setting where the new facility is located. For all of the stairs where Kaiser Permanente is encouraging use, there’s also floor-to-ceiling graphics of outdoor activities at the landings, painted walls and steel structures, and finished floors. (For more on Westside Medical Center, check out Healthcare Design's November issue.)

“Things like that say ‘it’s ok to use these,” Miller says.

It’s also a way for a facility to say its paying attention to the details, no matter how big or small. What would you add to the “unloved” list in healthcare design? Share your ideas below or email me at