Design Interventions in a Psychiatric Ward – Systems Theory Concepts in Design Practice

Year: 2016
Editor: Boks, Casper; Sigurjonsson, Johannes; Steinert, Martin; Vis, Carlijn; Wulvik, Andreas
Author: Ziegler, Ute; Acklin, Claudia
Series: NordDESIGN
Institution: University of Applied Sciences Lucerne, Switzerland
Section: Healthcare and Welfare Design
Page(s): 238-246
ISBN: 978-1-904670-80-3


Concrete applications or methods for design approaches from system theory are few and far between. This paper describes the development of a modular cocoon based on system theory methods, a place of retreat for a Swiss psychiatric clinic. The project looked for answer to the question: What design interventions are appropriate to enable a retreat and individual shielding for psychologically traumatized patients and to reduce stress? On the theoretical level this project reflects on the extent to which systemic approaches can be translated into design practice.

The system theorist Dirk Baecker (2002) describes design as a practice that can inform different interfaces between systems of technology, body, psyche and communication (Baecker, 2002). He expands design’s area of influence into pedagogy, therapy and medicine. According to Jonas (2004), design research is aimed at fitting artifacts to the surroundings (organic, psychic, social), at overcoming gaps and creating connections. A design intervention or an artifact can thus take on the function of an interface between various systems (psyche and body).

In the project, after a phase of quantitative measurements in a ward for psychologically traumatized patients, qualitative interviews were held with therapists, nurses and patients. In addition, various co-creations were performed with patients, such as working with a model. Light, colors and textiles were brought into a framework; it enabled each patient to design his or her own place of retreat. A prototype was designed in cooperation with the relevant stakeholders.

This prototype of a “modular cocoon” was successful. In a test phase in the ward, possibilities for interaction, variations of use and the modular cocoon’s function are presently being studied. These patient tests demonstrate the desired effects an increased sense of security and comfort as well as increased sleep quality.

Keywords: System theory, systemic approach in a psychiatric context, co-creation, stress reduction

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