PROVE IT: Chelsea Niemietz Backs Up Design Choices

Sometimes, design can seem arbitrary. Some residential or commercial designs seem to work beautifully, but it's hard to pinpoint why. Others appear to fall short; yet figuring out how to make it better can be puzzling.

Is it simply a matter of personal preference or is there something about design that goes beyond a feeling? Is it possible for a design method to be proven to work?  It's easy to say; "I don't like that!" or "I love that!” but why?

“Interior designers, naturally and instinctively, can create spaces that are functional and beautiful.  Though creatively inclined, we do not rely on intuition without any rationale.  We base much of our design on proven evidence. 

This method of combining creative sensibility with factual objectivity helps us make meaningful and smart decisions throughout an interior design project.”


Welcome, our lovely designer, Chelsea Niemietz! As we learned more about Chelsea, we found that her passion lies in research. So, it only made sense that we took time to dig deeper into her interest and understanding about the subject of something we refer to as evidence-based design. Or as Chelsea describes it, design proof. 

Amy Vande Streek - What does evidence-based design (EBD) mean?

Chelsea Niemietz - Evidence-based design stems from healthcare interior design but has emerged as a national standard among all fields of design i.e. hospitality/restaurant, retail, workplace, k-12, government, industrial, historical preservation, residential etc.

Essentially, it's the study of credible and collected evidence that influences design development for a successful outcome. 

In healthcare, that means researching and documenting how design influences patient and administrative wellness, healing, tension, and security.

For example, evidence shows that a chemotherapy patient during infusion therapy could experience symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, and skin discoloration. This has led healthcare designers to consider separating entrance and exit points.  Why?  So that patients and guests entering and waiting for an infusion session will not need to cross paths with someone displaying these symptoms after completing an infusion session and exiting the facility.  By giving patients privacy as they leave the facility, we can prevent effects of anxiety and fear with incoming patients while they wait.


Vande Streek - What was your first experience with evidence-based design?

Niemietz - The first time I started working with EBD was on a healthcare interior design project my senior year at Kendall. My project was the California Pacific Medical Center for Infusion Therapy where I created a cancer treatment facility designed to empower patients, guests, and staff. This project became close to my heart because of my personal experience as a guest to an infusion therapy facility when my Nene battled cancer four years ago. 

Naturally, I wouldn’t let her go through the infusion alone, so for the following week I sat with her during the sessions. A few weeks into the treatment, she began to lose taste. Food became bland and she could hardly keep it down. During the healthcare project I found that loss of appetite and taste is a common symptom among cancer patients. While most facilities provide a café for guests, I decided to incorporate an additional smoothie bar for those who cannot consume a full meal or solid foods. Research and evidence such as this fueled the decisions and success of my design and helped me explain and support my reasoning.

 Chelsea developed planning diagrams based on her research. Separate entry and exit points were proven to reduce anxiety and fear in incoming patients, by offering a different path for exiting patients displaying upsetting symptoms after an infusion.

Vande Streek - It makes sense that healthcare would be a starting point for EBD. How does EBD translate specifically to other interior design specialties?

Niemietz – EBD can benefit any project. Design development, especially for commercial spaces, goes beyond creative inclination.

Collecting and analyzing data based on human-experience, observation and user-feedback provides quantitative results. That information reveals how well any kind of interior design performs.

On a large scale, you look at a company like Steelcase that has it's own research and development division and shares case studies and findings with designers. In furniture design, we make sure we understand that products we specify have been prototyped, tested, and proven to stand up to quality standards. The Steelcase Node Chair used in classrooms is a great example of a product that has been tested and proven to solve problems related to the student experience. 

Collecting information based on first hand experience, testing/prototyping, and researching similar successful design solutions helps a designer back up their ideas.

Ultimately evidence helps clients feel more confident about our design recommendations because there's plenty of information to support their decisions.

When a client moves into their home or business, you want peace of mind that you’ve made decisions that will live up to their promises.  Evidence-based design helps us deliver interior design that will work and that will last.