Editor’s blog

The wordsmiths among you will be as stunned as I was at the addition of the word staycation to the Oxford Dictionary of English this week, meaning to take a holiday at home. It’s such a clumsy word and not an enticing concept.

Much more fun is vuvuzela – the droning horn that characterised South Africa’s staging of the 2010 Fifa World Cup to the delight (or otherwise) of football fans – that also made its official debut in the dictionary this week. I don’t think the jabulani football made it in, but then that particular design won’t been seen again if World Cup players have their way.

The power of words in communication can be phenomenal, as copywriters know. A picture might be worth a thousand of them, but the right words, spoken with feeling, stay in your mind and can prompt action.

Nor does it have to be a Churchillian speech to do the trick. A heartfelt plea not to remove a dressing from a wound in a Westminster Council walk-in health centre the other day struck a chord with me in a way that no amount of rhetoric from politicians could have done. ‘Please don’t take it off now,’ she cautioned. ‘It’s far too dirty in here.’

Patient bedside storage system, by Kinneir Dufort/Bristol Maid as pat of the Design Council's Design Bugs Out initiative
Patient bedside storage system, by Kinneir Dufort/Bristol Maid as part of the Design Council’s Design Bugs Out initiative. Sharp edges and joins that can harbour infection have been done away with through a rotationally moulded construction.

Her simple words are a reminder of the efforts made by design activists to address health issues, particularly the Design Council’s Design Bugs Out initiative. Launched in a blaze of glory last year, the project involved an array of UK product design talents, working with manufacturers to create beds, commodes and other hospital furniture and ancilliary equipment, to make cleaning easier in an attempt to eradicate infection. The designs also aimed to inject more comfort and delight into the lives of hospital staff and patients.

The exercise served to raise awareness among all parties, particularly senior civil servants in the Department of Health, that good design can achieve far more than an aesthetic uplift and really make a difference. It’s all gone a bit quiet now though.

Commode created by Pearson Lloyd with Kirton Healthcare as part of Design Bugs Out
Commode created by Pearson Lloyd with Kirton Healthcare as part of Design Bugs Out

These things inevitably take time as individual hospital trusts have to buy into the idea – and then the products – to make production viable. But let’s hope that the positive advantages of this initiative aren’t buried somewhere in the depths of Government cuts.

Certainly, earlier bids to use design to enhance patient experience and promote healing by The Sorrell Foundation and others had minimal impact, not becauser they were in any way flawed, but because the system was unable to  adapt to change. It was inevitably down to individual champions on the inside to get things done.

Champions in high places are few and far between for design. As a community we should welcome in those who ‘get it’ about design and encourage them to keep on battling, regardless of the Government axe. It is, after, all about social wellbeing.

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