Four teams win briefs in Design Bugs Out scheme

If, heaven forbid, you should have to visit your Great Aunt Ethel in hospital next year, you may be pleasantly surprised to find your bottom engaging with a Pearson Lloyd chair as you place flowers on a bedside cabinet made by designers better known for their crafting of luxury pens.

Design has become the latest weapon in the fight against ‘superbug’ hospital infections including MRSA and C difficile, which together kill nearly 10 000 people in the UK per year. While the death rate is falling – by 30 per cent this year compared with last – the Department of Health is aiming for ‘zero tolerance’, and has commissioned the Design Council to procure five innovative designs for healthcare products.

The resulting competition, Design Bugs Out, has charged four winning designer-manufacturer partnerships with creating super-hygienic hospital furniture for mass production.

Despite having no manufactured medical products to its name, Pearson Lloyd has scooped two of the five potential briefs, each of which will yield a £25 000 grant for design and research. The furniture design consultancy will use the funding to put ‘a proper, full team’ to work on commode and bedside chair designs, to meet what partner Tom Lloyd calls an ‘aggressive deadline’ of April next year. He says, ‘This is not a gravy train. We are not going to make a lot of money at this, but we can’t just occupy the high-end design market, making things for people who are “into” design – that is just one part of our business. Public realm projects are much more democratic and satisfying.’

Craig Wightman is design director of consultancy Kinneir Dufort, which, along with Parker Pen designer Hollington Associates, is working on a bedside cabinet. Kinneir Dufort has more than 30 years of experience creating medical products for the NHS, but Wightman says that this project is different, because it offers an opportunity to work ‘on a policy-level initiative’.

His observation is echoed by Richard Seymour, chairman of the Design Bugs Out judging panel and creative director of Seymour Powell.

He says, ‘This sort of thing comes along very rarely, but it should happen every day – Design Bugs Out provides a model of how to let the dog see the rabbit.’ Likening the NHS to a recovering alcoholic, Seymour says, ‘The first thing you have to admit is you have a problem – the NHS has just completed step one.’

Of the five briefs – for a commode, bedside cabinet, bedside chair, porter’s chair (won by design consultancy Minima) and hand-hygiene solution – only the last failed to attract a winning entry.

‘None were deemed to have addressed the issue at a high enough level,’ Seymour says. ‘Hand hygiene was not a harder category to innovate in, but it does demand an understanding of what we are like as people. I am a bit disappointed it did not attract better entries.’ There are no plans to invite more entries to the category.

In April 2009, the five prototypes will be showcased at seven NHS hospitals around the UK. With manufacturers and service providers already signed up to pay for their manufacture, the products could be in hospitals by 2010.

The clean winners

Knocking out competition from 33 other entries in five product categories:

• Bedside chair – Pearson Lloyd with Kirton Healthcare

• Commode – Pearson Lloyd with Kirton Healthcare

• Bedside cabinet – Hollington Associates with Herman Miller; Kinneir Dufort with Bristol Maid

• Porter’s chair – Minima with Vernacare

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