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Connecting the Dots to Better Health at Design Connections

March 26, 2022

Healthcare designers were treated to two days of programming, networking, events and fun for a great cause. 

The halls of theMART in Chicago are typically quiet in mid-March, but this year, they were buzzing with excitement as healthcare designers and suppliers reconnected in person at the Design Connections conference produced by i+s. The focus of the spring event was to help design professionals who are focused exclusively on healthcare and senior living design connect in meaningful ways—to find solutions to their biggest challenges, learn from industry experts and network with their peers.

The event kicked off at Marshall’s Landing inside theMART with an opening keynote presentation from Dr. Jeri Brittin, director of research at HDR, who delivered an insightful presentation on community and population health as a future imperative for healthcare organizations and healthcare designers. Dr. Brittin shared from HDR’s research and experience to provide attendees with: 

  • Two distinct definitions of population health and why the difference is important
  • An ability to articulate the key social determinants of health
  • Knowledge of the dimensions of social equity that are important in design

How health systems are embracing population health through their missions, partnerships and place-based neighborhood planning and design interventions, along with some leading examples.  
The opening reception following Dr. Brittin’s keynote presentation was a welcome respite from the Zoom calls we’ve all been inundated with the past two years, as evidenced by the chatter, smiles and laughs (and cocktails, of course) of everyone in attendance. 

The (Neuro)Science of Design

Tuesday morning kicked off with a fascinating presentation from Valerie Jardon, senior strategist at IA Interior Architects, that delved into how neuroscience is leading design. Given that nearly 50 million (or 19.86%) of American adults experienced a mental illness in 2019, and that stress is increasing while mental health is declining, her presentation could not have been more timely.

“Using neuroscience to inform design allows us to study how the mind responds to the built environment and use data to drive future solutions that strengthen our connections to space,” Jardon said. She explained the benefits of designing with neuroscience in mind and shared a variety of researched design approaches that engage our brains to elicit positive experiences. Attendees were also given actionable design solutions to implement, as well as neurodiversity quick tips to ensure inclusivity. 

Design solutions that put the human front and center provide a myriad of benefits to occupants, Jardon pointed out, including:

  • Improving health by reducing stress
  • Increasing cognition and attention span
  • Combating overstimulation and other negative feelings
  • Providing a sense of place and assistance with memory cues
  • Building resilience
  • Enhancing creativity and innovation
  • Heightening ability to problem solve and make decisions
  • Encouraging occupants to act more socially responsible

Supplier Connections

In addition to the CEU-approved programming for Design Connections, attendees were able to meet with suppliers for a series of 1:1 “speed dating” meetings designed to introduce them to the latest products and services they offer—and more importantly, to develop new relationships and deepen existing ones. These quick-hitting meetings allowed designers to get up to date on what’s new as well as provide manufacturers with insights into the projects their customers are working on in real time.

[Related: Trend Futures by Stacy Garcia Is Coming to NeoCon]

Attendees spent the afternoon in groups as part of a series of roundtable discussions hosted in showrooms and meeting spaces throughout theMART. These in-depth conversations gave designers the opportunity to share their perspectives on the day-to-day challenges they face and provide valuable feedback to suppliers on their products.

Awards + Night of Giving

Each Design Connections closes with an awards dinner and a special Night of Giving, an inspiring, hands-on and creative activity that benefits a local charity. Attendees were given the opportunity to vote for their favorite products in one of two categories: Best Product Solutions for Healthcare and Senior Living. Textile manufacturer Concertex took home the prize in the Senior Living Category while healthcare equipment and furniture supplier MedViron won the Healthcare award. 

The team at i+s also gives out a special award for an attendee at each Design Connections event who isn’t afraid to ask the difficult questions and rock the boat—an award affectionately referred to as the Attendee Disruptor Award. Victoria Numbers of Four Point Design was the clear standout, offering her perspectives with plenty of spunk, style and smiles. 

Following the awards, international expressionist performance painter Elliott of Artbeat Live entertained guests with a visually captivating live performance painting set to music. Attendees were then invited to participate in a creative team-building exercise in which they replicated one of Elliott’s paintings—but with a twist. One designer in each team was selected as the designated painter and had to recreate the painting without seeing it and relying entirely on the directions of their team members.

The finished pieces were all uniquely creative and impressive, and will be auctioned off to benefit an amazing organization—Chicago-based Designs for Dignity. Jennifer Sobecki, CEO of Designs for Dignity and the i+s Designer of the Year in 2020, addressed the dinner crowd prior to the painting party and explained how the organization helps transform nonprofit environments through pro bono design and in-kind donations to empower lives through the power of design.

All of this would not have been possible were it not for the support of our incredible event sponsors:

Request to attend Design Connections: Workplace in Chicago August 1-2, 2022 here.

Read next: From Presentation to Partnership

About the Author

Robert Nieminen | Chief Content Director

Robert Nieminen is the Chief Content Director of Architectural Products, BUILDINGS and i+s, sister publications of Smart Buildings Technology. He is an award-winning writer with more than 20 years of experience reporting on the architecture and design industry.

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