Findings from our studies show that the environment coupled with interior decoration affect everyone staying in the room at the intensive care unit (ICU), patients, loved ones, and staff.

Complexity and harmony

Giving patients light sedation is a common practice in Swedish ICUs. This means that patients are able to perceive their nearest surrounding, but are not able to fully orient themselves. However, we have seen that the patient room and the interior decoration partly determine patients’ experiences, memories and to some extent dreams while being cared for at the ICU. One major aspect in this context is making the environment homely and welcoming as these reduce patients’ anxiety levels and increase their sense of coherence.

The space in the ICU determines whether or not the loved one visit and stay at the bed side. At times when life is at stake the love of family and friends motivate the patients to keep fighting against illness. Besides being a place for care and treatment and a visiting room for the family, ICU patient room, is also a work place.

The complexity of the intensive care room puts high demands on the design to ensure a caring atmosphere as well as a good and safe care.

The dark side of design thinking

Being strapped down, locked up – or both – in institutional environments, such as intensive care units (ICU) and remand prisons, implies a very different way of being human. This mode of being might have crucial say in how you interact with products; as well as other human beings, currently surrounding you. For example: 

- Why is it that people in ICU’s wake up from induced comas confused and frightened, fully convinced that they have been robbed of everything they own and have been made to walk down the street – completely in the nude – while people everywhere were grabbing at their arms and legs and pulling them in every direction, and when they tried screaming no one seemed to hear as people around them were all busy talking to each other in a language they did not understand?

- Or, what makes it possible for people in remand prison to end their lives by e.g. stuffing a sock down the throat and therefore suffocate?

Designing for these various modes of being, obviously implies a very different way of thinking. Through my doctoral studies, I developed a critical design method, i.e. the “dark side” of design thinking – described and illustrated in a design manual, ready for use – intended to shed light on the current state of the ICU and remand prison, and so express what these institutions of tomorrow could and should be like. Implementing this way of thinking – already in the planning of e.g. future ICU’s and remand prisons – will give designers, architects, engineers, etc., a tremendous tool in terms of  making sure the final design fulfils the needs of those whose inhabiting the environment, namely the patients and prisoners.