Already a world renowned architect and product designer, Michael Graves became a healthcare advocate after a rare “meningitis-like” condition left him a paraplegic approximately 10 years ago.

The principal of Michael Graves & Associates architect firm and Michael Graves Design Group, Graves spent time in eight hospitals and four rehabilitation centers while recovering from the illness. He soon realized the patient experience could be improved through better design.

“As an architect/designer, I was quite honestly appalled by the design of many of these healthcare facilities. And I should point out that I was in high-quality centers of healthcare excellence, where I generally received superior care,” Graves says. “However, not only were these environments ugly, they tended to function poorly too. I watched as dedicated staff struggled to do their jobs efficiently. I was uncomfortable and unhappy trying to convalesce in these spaces. It was then and there that I realized I had a unique perspective; architect, designer AND patient. I knew I had to use my voice to bring attention to this situation, and that my firm had to add healthcare design to its plate.”

A partnership soon developed between Michael Graves Design Group (MGDG) and well-known healthcare equipment firm Stryker Medical to create more functional, better looking furniture.

“We knew we wanted to improve the experience in the patient room,” he says. “Working with Stryker, we determined the first products would be an overbed table, bedside stands, and patient seating. The success of those products led to the Prime TC hospital transport chair. Next, we want to complete the patient room collection with a recliner and a sleeper chair.”

MGDG also plans to expand its furniture design to other areas of the hospital, along with healthcare-related facilities, such as ambulatory care centers and senior living facilities, he says.

Home healthcare furniture is also on the radar for MGDG, which lists Target Stores, JC Penney, Dansk, Disney, David Edward Furniture and Delta Faucet among its strategic partners.

“[Home healthcare furnishings] is one of the highest goals we have right now. We need to find the right partner to bring them to market,” Graves says. “We are just beginning to work with a new client in the design of other home healthcare products. I am extremely excited about this relationship.”

Form & Function

Functionality, microbial resistance and durability come into play when designing healthcare furnishings.

“I believe good design is always about form and function, but we put special focus on finding functional improvements whenever we are talking about healthcare design,” Graves says. “With our work with Stryker, our research highlighted three big challenges facing hospitals that we thought our collection of furniture could help minimize: the spread of infection, patient falls, and clinician back strain.”

Case in point: the stand-assist armrests on the patient chair and Prime TC wheelchair enables patients to safely get in and out. And in another example, MGDG used “passive” and “active’” strategies on the overbed table to help prevent the spread of health-associated infections.

“The form and the color distinction on the top of the table teach patients to keep the main area clear so food service can leave your lunch without touching anything in your room. This is a key strategy for minimizing the spread of infection as they travel from room to room delivering meals,” Graves says.

“We also streamlined the overbed table to make it easier to disinfect; there is no split top, there are no cavities, there are no bins.”

Award-Winning Firms

Since launching the furniture line with Stryker, Michael Graves and his design team have earned numerous accolades for their work and are considered among the top 25 healthcare designers in the nation.

MGDG also has collaborated with sister architect firm MGA, itself an award winner, on healthcare projects. “Architects and product designers are trained at different scales and have different perspectives, so bringing the groups together enhances our projects,“ Graves says.

And throughout everything, is the same underlying goal for all projects, he adds. “Generally, I always hope a design is beautiful. That it functions properly. That it brings some new idea forward. And, I hope people get joy from interacting with a product or a building we design. Mostly, I hope our client is satisfied, and that we have the opportunity to further develop the relationship.”

About Michael Graves

A renowned architect and designer, Michael Graves founded his company in 1964 and has since transitioned it into two award-winning firms, Michael Graves & Associates (MGA) and Michael Graves Design Group (MGDG), based in Princeton, NJ, and New York City.

MGA, which offers architecture, interior design and master planning services, has designed more than 350 buildings worldwide. Specializing in product design, graphics and branding, MGDG has brought to market more than 2,000 products for home, office and personal use. In recognition of their work, Michael Graves and the firms have received more than 200 awards for design excellence.

Individually, Graves received the National Medal of Arts from President Bill Clinton in 1999, and in 2001 the American Institute of Architects (AIA) awarded him its Gold Medal. More recently, in 2010 Graves received the Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture and the AIA, and in 2012 he earned the Richard H. Driehaus Prize from the University of Notre Dame.

A native of Indianapolis, Graves received his architectural training at the University of Cincinnati and Harvard University. Currently he is a trustee at the American Academy in Rome and the Robert Schirmer Professor of Architecture, Emeritus at Princeton University, where he taught for 39 years. He also boasts 13 honorary doctorates and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

View the 2011 CNN video below on Michael Graves discussing healthcare furnishings design.