2021 ACSA Teachers Conference, Curriculum for Climate Agency: Design in Action

A Seat at the Table: Examining the Designer’s Role in Health Equity Through the Social Determinants of Health

Teachers Proceedings

Author(s): Kendra Kirchmer & Marin Gillis

The global pandemic reveals the imperative for designers to collaborate with health professionals. Designers can and must understand the role the built environment plays in health outcomes for individuals and populations; and design educators can and must develop the knowledge and skills needed to position nascent design professionals to become leaders who advance systemic change towards health equity, which is helping all people have a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. Designers already contribute to health outcomes through the design of hospitals and medical devices, however, if we consider that health is influenced by the places that one lives, works, and plays, the role of the designer in health is much more expansive. Health is not just about treatment of disease and illness. A range of factors, like access to education, employment, and healthy food, housing, and social cohesion, collectively known as the Social Determinants of Health (SDoH), play a significant role. Housing, workplaces, bus stops and corner stores, for example, are therefore parts of healthcare design. If equity is the goal of the designer and design professions broadly, then the necessary role of the designer in advancing health equity becomes obvious. Transdisciplinary collaborations between health and design professionals and educators in each domain must not only be advanced but prioritized to effectively address the complexities of health equity, the built environment, and the SDoH. For designers, this means that the territory of design in health must be broadened to include spaces and places not commonly thought of as healthcare design; and design educators must teach students to articulate the ethical ramifications of their designs and understand their agency as designers. Design decisions shape health. Consequently, design educators must prepare their students to marshal the power of design to advocate and realize systemic change, by improving health outcomes and ultimately creating an equitable and just 21st century built environment. Educational pilots between 2017-2020 beginning at the Florida International University College of Medicine in Miami, and later at the College of Architecture Planning and Design at KSU, Manhattan, KS serve as trasferable models for a transdisciplinary approach to teaching the SDoH in design and medical education, with the goal of promoting broader public health, empowering design and medical professionals to work collaboratively towards a just and equitable built environment.


Volume Editors
Jonathan A. Scelsa & Jørgen Johan Tandberg