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When are pirates invading a hospital a good thing?

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Have you ever been sick? Seriously sick? Have you ever needed to go to a hospital? If so, you probably weren’t too excited about it. You already felt terrible, and, on top of that, hospitals aren’t known for being particularly friendly places. But what if they were?

One statistic stated that 80% of children undergoing an MRI had to be sedated in order to keep them from moving during the short scan. As a result, a GE designer, upon recognizing the problem, asked if he could adapt the design of MRI machines. Once he got approval, he ended up doing a lot more than just changing the look of the machine.

The GE designer completely revamped the whole hospital experience turning a scary hospital room into a wild pirate adventure. Cheerful monkeys and tigers dressed as pirates were painted on the walls; the MRI machine was decorated so that it looked like a boat sailing the high seas. Kids were given pirate gowns, and even the medical staff attending the young patients dressed and talked like pirates.

All this effort to create a fun hospital environment for kids might seem superfluous, but it’s hard to argue with results. Due to the changes, the sedation rate for children receiving an MRI dropped drastically from 80% to 0.01%.

As designers we can learn a lot from this GE designer. The thing that stands out the most to me is the importance of keeping our intended audience in mind. A piece of medical equipment doesn’t look the same to a kid as it does to an experience engineer. The original designer of MRI machines probably loved the sleek look of the equipment, but it’s important to remember that we aren’t designing for ourselves. We aren’t even necessarily designing for our clients. Ultimately, as designers, we are designing for our client’s clients—in this case, for the kids.

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