Resilience, discomfort, & advocacy

How healthcare environments and practioners have impacted my design craft

As designers, we have the unique privilege and responsibility to shape experiences, not just with aesthetics or functionality, but with a deep understanding of the human condition, much like the thoughtfully curated sounds in a hospital - subtle, yet profoundly impactful.


I spent almost a year living in our children's hospital caring for my infant son while he went through cancer treatments. The following is a reflection of lessons I learned and how I apply similar thinking to my design craft. My hope is that this reflection helps you, with your craft, and invites more curiosity about how the practices of healthcare and design are interwoven.

This is what makes design not just a job, but a deeply human pursuit.

In the quiet sanctuary of a hospital room, where my family navigated the complexities of pediatric oncology treatment, I discovered profound lessons about the craft of design from an unexpected place—the craft of healthcare. This demanding journey, intertwined with the compassionate world of pediatric palliative care, became a crucible for invaluable lessons in resilience, advocacy, and the embrace of discomfort — insights that have profoundly shaped my approach to design.

Resilience, embracing discomfort, and the commitment to advocacy are as crucial in the craft of design as they are in the practice of healthcare.

Resilience: Infusing Warmth into Functionality

Amongst the clinical backdrop of the hospital, with its machinery rhythmically sustaining life, I found an opportunity to infuse a sense of warmth, humanity, and joy. By simply adding playful googly eyes to the intimidating machinery — a dialysis machine, an IV pump, and a vital signs monitor — I transformed them into more than functional objects; they became friendly presences in our room—moments of levity and playfulness for our family and our staff. This act was a lesson in resilience, reinforcing that design is not just about durability or functionality of a moment, but the true impact lies in the environments and systems we craft. With every service, product, brand, and moment we design, we have a choice—do we aim for the status quo or do we seek out opportunities to elevate unexpected moments with joy, warmth, and humanity?

Advocacy: Designing with Empathy and Understanding

The pediatric palliative care team, in their unwavering dedication, embodied a level of advocacy that went beyond medical care. Their approach, centered on understanding and empathizing with patients and families, resonated deeply with me. It emphasized that true advocacy in design, and in healthcare, is about more than meeting someone’s needs; it's about connecting with their emotional and psychological experiences. This realization reinforced my belief that effective design should be empathetic, considering not just the practical utility but also the emotional impact of our design decisions on a person's life.

Embracing Discomfort: A Pathway to Meaningful Experiences

In the pediatric ICU, where resilience and empathy were daily constants, I learned the value of embracing discomfort. The architectural design choice to include day beds for parents, born from listening to the experiences and needs of nurses and families, highlighted the importance of addressing discomfort directly. This approach to design — understanding and addressing the challenges people face — is about turning obstacles into opportunities for meaningful and impactful solutions. It's about using discomfort not as a barrier or excuse, but as a driving force for crafting designs that genuinely resonate with and support someone’s needs.

Design is a deeply human pursuit that's validated by real people and data, and driven by the resilience we all share.

These insights from my time in our pediatric hospital have become the guiding principles of my design philosophy. They underscore the belief that design, at its best, serves humanity, enhancing the quality of life for individuals and contributing positively to the broader world. As I continue in my career, these principles guide my craft and are what makes the practice of design not just a job, but a deeply human pursuit that's validated by real people and data, and driven by the resilience we all share.