We met Annie Coull during UX Week 2015 back in August.  We witnessed her unique sensitivity to the special needs of children, families and staff in the healthcare setting.

We had the opportunity to talk with her on myriad topics including her talk, “A Journey Like No Other” at UXWeek 2015.

Here’s the second part of our conversation. You can find part one here.

How Can Evidence Based Design Improve a Project?

One of the things that came out of this whole movement of evidence-based design is the private patient room. We gathered enough data that showed that there are many benefit for both patients and workers in the healthcare environment.

For patients, the data shows a lower rate of infection. A private room means patients don’t have to be moved around. When they are moved around, it is an opportunity for error, in transferring the medical record or an error in transferring orders or medications.

If you keep people in one environment you will reduce that rate of error. As well, staff have less chance of being injured due to lifting patients during transfers.

On all those levels it was determined that the private room really does make a difference in quality and outcomes and therefore should be implemented in all new hospitals.

When the Product is a Hospital, Is Design Research an Iterative Process?

You can set up a post-occupancy evaluation (POE) that includes an evaluation after one year of occupancy of the new setting.  Your survey or questionnaire will examine how design features affect behavior and outcomes in the new environment. Sometimes this will lead to new studies or areas of investigation.

You don’t want to do this too soon because during the first year, everyone is getting adjusted to the new environment and systems.

Is It Truly Possible to Design an Experience?

I wouldn’t do what I do if I didn’t think it was possible.

I truly believe that you can design an experience. The environment is not the only thing that impacts and influences the experiences that a patient or staff member has. Obviously an organization’s culture, the people who work there, how people are encountered, interacted with and treated, all influence an experience.

So there are many things that are not in our control but we believe that the environment is a significant contributing factor to an experience, and it can have a positive influence on some of the other factors.

Is Architecture Part of this Experience?

Architecture creates an experience, whether it is the visual experience of seeing it or the actual feeling you have being in it.

Imagine finding your way through a complex building like a hospital. If you get lost right away, it will be incredibly frustrating. If you can find your way to your destination without difficulty, then you feel better. So that’s an easy example of decreasing the stress of an already stressful experience.

Is the Health Industry Continuously Evolving?

I think the healthcare industry is a little bit behind, as usual,  in all the technology-enabled process that are being used out there in banking, in retail, in social media, and in other service industries like hospitality.

So, it’s very disruptive.  For example, electronic medical records are a government mandate for healthcare providers. This has been a huge challenge both in terms of cost, in terms of hardware, in terms of software, and in terms of getting people trained and changing the way they do their daily activities.

It has been slow but there is progress being made and because the electronic health record is a mandate, everyone will have to get there eventually.

There have always been advances in terms of medical technology, but IT lags behind.

Do You Have Any Advice For Designers in Training Interested in Design Research?

For me, it’s been sort of evolutionary rather than revolutionary in that you try something, you see how it works and you learn, and you go back and you do something different the next time.

I think we should all be psychologists because it’s all about human behavior, motivation, taking down barriers, collaboration; whatever makes people feel that they have been engaged and have a say in the outcome of the design.

The more you can have people buy into it, the more effective and long standing the actual solution will be. I just think no matter how good the solution, people tend to reject it if they haven’t been part of the process.  I would encourage as much research focus on design process as on design product.

About Annie


Annie Coull is an architect with over 30 years of leading healthcare programming, conceptual planning, and project detailed design.  She has pursued a special interest in facilitating teamwork that successfully synthesizes diverse user input and a breadth of architectural options. Her main focus has been children’s facilities, women’s services, ambulatory care and other tech-driven areas of the healthcare industry.

Nowadays she’s a VP at Stantec.

Audio with Interactive Transcript

You can listen the my conversation with Annie, recorded live.

And Finally …

Our thanks to Annie Coull for sharing her experience in the Healthcare Industry and Environmental Research.

For more, contact Diana Arvayo at [email protected]