Healthcare by de­sign

How a bunch of stu­dents are dis­rupt­ing Auck­land Hos­pi­tal


AUCK­LAND CITY HOS­PI­TAL is like a city within a city. Ev­ery week, 60,000 peo­ple en­ter (and with any luck leave) this rich and com­plex en­vi­ron­ment.

It’s clean, off-white, ster­ile, ef­fi­cient – as it should be.

Then un­ex­pect­edly in the mid­dle of level five sits a sur­pris­ing space – ex­posed pipes, rough white­washed walls, where the paint peters out half way up, con­crete pil­lars en­veloped in tacky car­pet.

It’s looks like a ser­vices area, or the bit they for­got to fin­ish.

Ac­tu­ally it’s the De­sign for Health and Well­be­ing Lab – a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween AUT Univer­sity’s de­sign depart­ment (hence the trendy, half- com­pleted look) and the Auck­land Dis­trict Health Board.

Here de­sign stu­dents of var­i­ous hues ( graphic, in­dus­trial, prod­uct, even fash­ion; post- and un­der­grad­u­ate) sit at ta­bles they prob­a­bly knocked up them­selves. And us­ing any­thing from post-it notes to top-notch 3D print­ers, they try to find de­sign so­lu­tions to the prob­lems faced by pa­tients and staff in a hos­pi­tal en­vi­ron­ment.

For ex­am­ple, how to pro­duce an IV drip pole that is less scary for chil­dren. Or make a ra­di­a­tion treat­ment pro­tec­tion process that’s more prac­ti­cal. Or de­velop an Emer­gency Depart­ment nav­i­ga­tion plan that makes it eas­ier for pa­tients and their fam­i­lies to know what to ex­pect when they turn up at A&E.

Dr Stephen Reay, se­nior lec­turer of in­dus­trial de­sign and in­no­va­tion at AUT Univer­sity, started think­ing about the pos­si­bil­ity of link­ing

The staff who work here have said ‘This is hairy, loose, rough and ex­per­i­men­tal.’ And I’ve told them: ‘It’s yours. What do you want to do with it? It’s your op­por­tu­nity. This is a once-in-al­ife­time.”

Stephen Reay, se­nior lec­turer, in­dus­trial de­sign and in­no­va­tion, AUT Univer­sity

stu­dents with the hos­pi­tal four to five years ago.

The first step saw de­sign stu­dents work­ing on a se­ries of small prac­ti­cal projects for the ADHB. But Reay wanted more – a de­sign lab within the hos­pi­tal.

He teamed up with Justin Kennedy-Good, the ADHB’s pro­gramme di­rec­tor for per­for­mance im­prove­ment, and to­gether they set up try­ing to make it work. When they came across an empty space on level five of the hos­pi­tal, next to the Clin­i­cal Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­tre, they qui­etly moved some stu­dents in.

“We said we’d be in there for a cou­ple of weeks and then we just stayed.”

Twelve months later, the DHW Lab – a world first – al­ready has 90 post-it notes on the ideas board wait­ing for ac­tion – and a dozen projects on the go.

While the med­i­cal pro­fes­sion is his­tor­i­cally rooted in science, com­plex­ity and ex­per­tise, de­sign is viewed as much more in­tu­itive, cre­ative and hap­haz­ard, says Reay. By bring­ing the two worlds to­gether, with the free­dom to experiment and in­no­vate, the DHW Lab gets de­sign­ers en­gag­ing with clin­i­cal ex­perts to share and test ideas and de­velop so­lu­tions.

“In the lab, we’re bal­anced on a knife edge, and from that ten­sion comes in­no­va­tion,” ex­plains Reay. “We’re learn­ing enor­mous amounts from the in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary col­lab­o­ra­tion we have with the hos­pi­tal’s per­for­mance im­prove­ment unit, and from the clin­i­cians, sup­port staff, pa­tients and fam­i­lies.”


The space it­self, with its tem­po­rary, un­fin­ished, ex­per­i­men­tal feel, is an im­por­tant part of the de­sign lab ex­pe­ri­ence, Reay says.

“I like that the em­pha­sis is on the work, not the look. We started with a small bud­get and we’ve de­signed it as we’ve gone along, mak­ing half of the fur­ni­ture our­selves. The space it­self is chang­ing as we have bet­ter ideas – like it’s a pro­to­type for what a de­sign lab in a hos­pi­tal should be.”

As be­fits a hub, it’s an ever- chang­ing com­mu­nity. There are de­sign grad­u­ates work­ing on a range of projects from phar­macy lay­out, to the ef­fec­tive­ness of the tran­si­tion lounge, to the out­pa­tient ex­pe­ri­ence in the Star­ship Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal. There are un­der­grad­u­ates do­ing work ex­pe­ri­ence, and post-grad­u­ate stu­dents work­ing on real-life projects. There is work for spa­cial de­sign­ers, prod­uct de­sign­ers, even a fash­ion de­sign stu­dent work­ing on a new uni­form for the vol­un­teers.

Kennedy- Good says one goal of the lab is to get hos­pi­tal staff ex­posed to a cre­ative way of work­ing.

“We want our 8000 em­ploy­ees to be con­stantly think­ing about what they can do dif­fer­ently to im­prove the ex­pe­ri­ence for pa­tients, and to have per­mis­sion to try stuff and learn from it – with all the safety and con­text that’s re­quired,” he says.

Over the past few months, there have been vis­its from man­age­ment at com­pa­nies like Air NZ and BNZ, keen to look at the con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment model, says Kennedy- Good.

“We bring them through the lab and they say, ‘Holy crap, I wish we had that.’ And we did it in a public sys­tem – that’s pretty cool.”


On the other side, it’s also a hands- on stu­dent learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

At any given time, a hand­ful of AUT post­grad­u­ate stu­dents are de­vel­op­ing their de­sign projects, along­side grad­u­ate de­sign­ers work­ing on spe­cific projects and men­tor­ing the stu­dents.

“I hope that by at­tract­ing stu­dents with the right mind­set and giv­ing them this op­por­tu­nity to step up, we’ll help them leave us more con­fi­dent and mo­ti­vated, and as bet­ter de­sign­ers. It’s a very dif­fer­ent sort of ed­u­ca­tion.

The or­ganic na­ture of the lab’s growth has made it in­ter­est­ing and ex­cit­ing, Reay says.

“Po­ten­tially it was a huge risk, but at the same time it wasn’t, be­cause it’s such valu­able learn­ing what­ever way you look at it. Ev­ery­thing here is a huge experiment and we’re just work­ing it out.

“The staff who work here have said ‘This is hairy, loose, rough and ex­per­i­men­tal.’ And I’ve told them: ‘It’s yours. What do you want to do with it? It’s your op­por­tu­nity. This is a once-in-al­ife­time.”

The fu­ture of the lab is un­cer­tain, Reay says, and that’s how it should be.

“We won’t stay for­ever, we’ll move some­where else or hope­fully one day there’ll be no need for us be­cause then the hos­pi­tal will be awe­some!”

We bring [man­age­ment from com­pa­nies like Air New Zealand and BNZ] through the lab and they say, ‘Holy crap, I wish we had cool.” that.’ And we did it in a public sys­tem – that's pretty

Justin Kennedy-Good, ADHB pro­gramme di­rec­tor for per­for­mance im­prove­ment

De­sign for Health and Well­be­ing Lab: Stephen Reay (black shirt, shaved head) and Justin KennedyGood (blue shirt, bearded) at the of­fi­cial DHW Lab open­ing

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