Human – Centric Design

By Barbara Huelat, FASID, AAHID, EDAC

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when creating them.” – Albert Einstein

“Does environment impact the human condition?  Can our physical environment influence our health, wellbeing, our creative process or ability to innovate?”  Believing space and places do play a major role on health, wellbeing and creativity, I continually seek evidence to define this hypothesis.  I call this philosophy Human-Centric Design.

Human-centric thinking stems from the healthcare term – Patient centered design or patient-centered care which has been established by the Planetree organization.  Through the work of a patient wanting to change the way hospitals treat patients, Planetree has established best practices in the delivery of medical protocol to care for patients based on basic human needs including the spirit, touch, nourishment, nature and community.  Today, patient centered care reaches far beyond the Planetree model and is integrated into many visionary healthcare practices.

The DaVinci Man – Squaring the circle is impossible yet the Vitruvian Man can fit in both the circle and the square illustrating the ability to take any position. This one sketch illustrates “humanity” at the center of the universe, changing the position of geometry, mathematics, philosophy, religion and architecture.

The DaVinci Man – Squaring the circle is impossible yet the Vitruvian Man can fit in both the circle and the square illustrating the ability to take any position. This one sketch illustrates “humanity” at the center of the universe, changing the position of geometry, mathematics, philosophy, religion and architecture.

Fortunate to be at the vanguard of the patient centered movement, it became clear that healing environments based on patient-centered practices provided positive outcomes and evidence to improve the hospital environment.  Design intervention is real and does make a difference.  Patient-centered care does make patients and families more comfortable throughout the healing journey, but it falls short in areas of human complexities, social welfare, education, creativity and the well population.

My continued journey has moved beyond “patient-centered” design and has led to a greater understanding of the environment from the human perspective.  Principles of biophilia, healthy buildings, human factors, experiential design can change the human experience. Benefits have been found to reduce stress, improve health, wellbeing, increase joy, and pleasure.  These factors can support innovation and provides deeper meaning of place.

Human – Centric Philosophy

Human-Centric design describes an unfolding philosophy which has become the backbone of my research, writing, advocacy, leadership and design work.  It is a process that starts with human need and extends to innovating solutions impacting the human condition.  “Human-Centric” design is both a process and place.  The design process develops criteria to support the wholeness of the person, the biology of the physical being, the emotion of one’s spiritual nature and the cognitive process of the thinking person.  Human-centric is an interactive systems approach to design consisting of and focusing on the unique characteristics and needs which make us human. This creative “process” creates a structure that define the components of an innovative space. “Place” is the product of the process.  It is the environment where humankind can optimally flourish.

Can design also support these human complexities including innovation and creativity? To address these questions, let’s look at what it means to be human.  This seemingly simple question has many diverse and conflicting answers.  The clarity primarily resides in “human being” vs, “being human.”    Human beings are easily described by our biology and characteristics, genius and species.  However, it often takes, essays, books, psychology, theologians and opinion to define “being human.”  Being human will never have a clear definition because as a philosophy; it is an ever-developing interpretation of an evolutionary species.  Human-centric design requires we address all environments with people at the center as a biosocial being.

Design for the bio-human can be achieved by carefully addressing the needs of human biology, providing ergonomics, nourishment, sensory input and elements that support all bodily functions.
It is not an easy process but is achievable with the current understanding of physiology.

Addressing “being human” also requires we embrace the emotional spirit, mental cognition and social/cultural dynamics.  Being human is a face of humanity’s self-expression.  The challenge to design environments which can achieve such a goal is great and one worth pursuing.  Today, the human experience is crying out for change.  A new philosophy of “Human-Centric” design can make a difference and leave environments in a better place for humanity to thrive.