DESIGNING FOR DIGNITY

People are at the center of Juyeon Park’s work

by Beth Lipscomb

For Juyeon Park, all design is ultimately about people. Whether she’s helping with energy solutions or working to create “smart” wearables, her mission is to make life better for individuals and communities as a whole.

“The human is the centerpiece of my thinking,” the associate professor in Colorado State’s Department of Design and Merchandising explains. “I use a lot of the latest technology, but instead of putting the technology at the center, I put the human in the center and then look around for ways to help the person who will use it.”

Park’s expertise and empathetic nature have helped her bring specific dedication to a flexible paradigm of design thinking: human-centered  design. This work addresses the unique needs of people who are often left out of mainstream functional design – whether due to disability, obesity, geographic and economic conditions, or other circumstances.

In 2011, when she was seeking a project that could serve a mass audience through a truly one-size-fits-all approach, Park’s research led her to an item very few have ventured to take on: the hospital gown.

Juyeon Park

Time for a change

Most of us view the hospital gown as the uncomfortable and unflattering piece of fabric we’re required to wear during a time when we’re already struggling, physically and emotionally. It can be demoralizing and dehumanizing.

And that’s the very issue Park wanted to address. Because, in her eyes, everyone matters. Whatever we’re going through, we all deserve to maintain our individuality and our dignity.

Park found that the hospital gown has been essentially the same – all around the world – for more than 100 years. The first ones were put into use during World War I.

As she sought to understand the human ramifications, she discovered that recovery times improve when patients are comfortable, physically and mentally.

“I thought, ‘This has to be done,’” Park recalls. “I got very excited and started this project from that fundamental goal: to provide health and well-being to hospital patients. We all get to wear the hospital gown at least once in our lifetime, and most likely multiple times. This was the perfect example of something that could be done to benefit a wide range of the population, globally.”

Dignity gown - V-neck

V-NECKLINE
Relaxed fit around the patient’s neck

Dignity gown - sleeve

ARMS/SHOULDER
Based on anthro-
pometric 3-D body scan

Dignity gown - Back Pleat

BACK PLEAT
Trench coat inspired for spinal access

Dignity gown - Side Ties

SIDE TIES
Adjustable for various body types

People first

To devise a new vision for the gowns, Park collaborated with Poudre Valley Hospital and Medical Center of the Rockies to conduct detailed surveys of patients and health care workers.

Patients reported issues related to general discomfort, poor fit, and, of course, embarrassment. But their preference for front versus back openings varied depending on factors such as gender and age.

Meanwhile, health care workers had different needs. ER nurses, for example, prioritized the ability to quickly remove gowns from patients, or to use them as blankets. ICU caretakers wanted to be sure any new gowns would be a light color – never red – so they can see blood and other bodily fluids.

Ultimately, though, says Park, fit was the main problem. And that’s where her technological expertise came into play.

Park leveraged 3-D body-scanning technology to examine the postures of more than 100 patient participants as they performed several activities: walking, bending, sitting, lying down, and reaching up.

“Besides the overall gown fit, another main problem area of the existing gowns turned out to be the neckline,” Park says, noting her team’s surprise at the result. “Some patients in the scenario exercises even said they felt like they were being choked while in a sitting position.”

Her prototypes included ergonomically engineered shoulders and necklines for a much better fit.

Human-centered projects

Juyeon Park is also a part of larger teams of researchers at CSU, and contributes to other people-centric issues within her area of expertise, human factors design, including:

  • Personal protective equipment for health-care workers and first responders to help them stay safe in their work, incorporating the latest protective technology while providing superb comfort and mobility.
  • Monitoring of foodborne bacterial infections through the development of microbial-sensing hygiene wipes for use in commercial and school kitchens.
  • Establishment of a “smart village microgrid” that will bring energy-based solutions to rural African villages.
  • “Smart” product systems with integration of biochemical and electrical sensing technologies for use in various occupational and environmental contexts.

Where are our new gowns?

After six years, numerous iterations, and minor changes in between, Park is almost ready for mass production.

She says the gowns will be made first for research partner Medical Center of the Rockies, then scaled up from there.

Park hopes her work will improve hospital experiences of patients, as well as her students who have helped on the project.

“I’m really hoping that students can understand the positive impact of design on individuals and society at large. Human-centered design is one powerful tool to make our society better,” she says.

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