Healthcare: using metaphor to optimize experience re-design

Metaphor exploration of the hospital experience serves up a wide array of powerful ideas from which to inspire a patient centric re-design.  Clients may at first blush find the idea of working with ideas grounded in metaphor daunting. This third blog in our healthcare series will demonstrate how accessible metaphor based tools are as they are grounded in how we all think and experience the world around us every minute of every day.

Starting with the metaphor of ‘ecology’ offered up in our first blog of the series and adding to that studies showing that hospitals operate as temporary shelters to protect, nurture and restore, the ecology of birds’ nests is a metaphor worth leveraging for a hospital experience redesign.

On a symbolic level birds’ nests are steeped in meaning as they represent the home and its love and care. In feng shui, nests are associated with good karma and are good luck for everyone who lives there. In concrete terms, hospitals need to deliver love and care as they treat all kinds of patients for all kinds of conditions. This broad mandate not only requires great science but a great deal of care and luck, making the ecology of birds’ nests a good fit.

Using the ecology of nests as a design springboard inspires a series of great questions around which to brainstorm re-design.  For example:

  • A nest is a structure made by birds to hold eggs and to provide shelter. What is the purpose of the hospital as nest? What about individual departments? How might that inform design?

  • There are a few types of nests that are very common, with each species modifying the common design slightly to suit individual needs. Thinking about the hospital re-design what common elements are key and how might that shape thinking?

  • There is great diversity in the type of nests that birds’ build each suited to a particular habitat or reproductive requirements. How might the hospital design be adapted to address diversity?

  • Nests are made of organic materials. How might that influence renewability and sustainability as elements of design?

  • Inorganic materials also play a role driven by what is available in the particular habitat. What is locally available for this re-design?

  • Are there any species that are particularly endangered and what must the nest contain to protect them?

Provoking inspiration and looking at problems in new ways through metaphor in healthcare design is both  motivating and highly effective because as a chief experience officer reflected  ‘we don’t just want a human experience, but a humane one’.