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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.
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.”
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.