What’s next? The ethics of interior design practice and evidence-based design in healthcare and beyond

Presented by: Justin Wilwerding, Maureen Soules

This panel discussion will examine both broad ethical and legal concerns of the impact of evidence-based design on a variety of project types. The ethics of design practice is not merely a way to stay out of legal trouble, it is the very foundation of the value of Interior Design. From its inception Interior Design has sought to assure and promote the life, health, safety and welfare of users; to ethically promote the human good. Yet, much like the medical professions, we can no longer afford to define the ethical standards of health, safety and welfare narrowly. Just as the capacity of medicine to promote health has deepened and widened the responsibilities of healthcare professionals, so too does the burgeoning body of research in design ‘raise the bar’ to be surmounted by designers for the outcomes associated with the designed environment. This empirical knowledge implies to raise several questions • How has the enhanced legal standard of care in healthcare affected litigation in this area of design practice? • How does the application of ethical guidelines to the use of evidence-based design principles in the development of Healthcare environments impact the welfare of those who are particularly vulnerable? • How is the emergent standard of care for other project types environments likely to affect ethical concerns? • What concerns are indicated by the evidence of emergent research conclusions indicating the application of evidence-based design to a wider range of project type and differing user profiles? • How are design practitioners going to assess their design interventions against the ever-changing standard of care? ( We need to ask something about how practitioners tie their practice to research) The application of research to the practice of a profession is modeled by other disciplines and these models serve as analogous paradigms; the parallels to the practice of medicine seem particularly significant in this regard. The development of a comprehensive approach to research the delivery and improvement of healthcare is spearheaded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which, “…serves as the science partner with private-sector and public organizations in their efforts to improve the quality, effectiveness, and appropriateness of health care delivery in the United States, and to expedite the translation of evidence-based research findings into improved health care services.” The implications for our own discipline indicated by this model are reasonably reflexive; as the basis of the body of knowledge in the discipline of healthcare design continues to grow and achieve nuance and diversity, designers will be faced with two additional questions: • Does the Interior Design profession, as is often the case from a socio-legal perspective, simply react to this emerging standard of care as a function of the dialogue between the undesirable outcomes suffered by users and litigation? or • Does the Interior Design discipline (professional community in concert with the academy) actively develop a research agenda based on a close examination of those factors that are most malicious to the life, health, safety and welfare of users (similar to that of medicine) that actively shape the standard care? In the evolving practice of Interior Design, we provide value to users through our ability to successfully predict the impact of design interventions on users; certainly as regards their “…life, health and safety…”, but in the broader demands of their social, psychological, and economic “welfare.” The foundation of this ability, to predict outcomes, lies in the body of evidence to be found in design research. These factors point to the need for discussion examining both the prospective legal standards under which practitioners will operate and the breadth of foundational ethical guidelines beyond those of professional liability.


  • Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. (2016, October 13). Research Tools and Data. Retrieved 10 13, 2016, from Agencty for Healthcare Research and Quality: http://www.ahrq.gov/research/findings/evidence-based-reports/index.html
  • Huber, A. (2016, March). Research utilization in the design decision making process. International Journal of Architectural Research, 10(1), 4-25. Retrieved 2016
  • Martin, C. (2014, November). Implementation of evidence-based design (EBD) by non-healthcare design practitioners. International Journal of Archtectural Research, 8(3), 165-180. Retrieved 2016