Press Releases April 6, 2023

Perkins&Will Researchers Are Making Public Health Data More Accessible with the New PRECEDE Tool

Funded by a $30,000 ASID Foundation Grant, the team will refine a tool that educates designers about the communities they’re designing for.

A team of Perkins&Will researchers has been awarded a $30,000 grant from the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) Foundation to enhance their PRECEDE dashboard, an open-access tool that draws on federal data to identify and assess community health priorities within the U.S. by location. PRECEDE, which stands for Public Repository to Engage Community & Enhance Design Equity, will help designers integrate and translate public health data into design decisions.

“We selected Perkins&Will’s proposal because of its focus on health equity at such a critical time. Their tool paves the way for a future of more equitable public health,” says S. Dawn Haynie, Ph.D., a research fellow for ASID. “It makes the traditionally complex contextual research about a specific site accessible to all designers, not just those with research expertise.”

The CDC estimates that a significant proportion of a person’s health is attributed to the quality of their environment, personal education, and any behavioral constraints that may be impacting their community. Designers have an opportunity to improve community health outcomes by designing according to these factors. However, access to the nuances within this federal data is limited, thus making it more difficult for designers to integrate such information early in the design process, when diversity and inclusion are most effectively addressed.

Identifying this gap in data and practice, the team first developed a beta version of PRECEDE in spring 2022 in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. Compared with similar public health-focused data visualization tools—most coming with limitations like not allowing the user to search by mailing address or not accounting for environmental factors—PRECEDE aggregates multiple sources into an easy-to-understand resource hub complete with best practices informed by successful case studies.

Our study works in tandem with the Social-Ecological Model for Physical Activity from Heise, L., Ellsberg, M., & Gottemoeller, M. from 1999.

The research team first identified over 40 design-relevant health indicators that could be improved by interior design, such as obesity, diabetes, and asthma, in areas like material selection, ventilation, and circadian lighting.

“When we walk in the door, we bring our health conditions with us,” says Dr. Erika Eitland, director of Perkins&Will’s Human Experience Lab. “This tool allows us to use publicly available data to identify health priorities for our communities without having to ask invasive questions about individuals’ health.”

Case studies demonstrate PRECEDE’s ability to impact a wide range of project types and populations. For a Durham, North Carolina school, designers discovered higher-than-average breast cancer deaths in the area and responded with healthier materials to limit teachers’ and staff’s exposure to known harmful materials. Similarly, at a national nonprofit’s Washington, D.C. headquarters, PRECEDE brought forward active workstations that encourage movement to mitigate the city’s high rates of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.

“This is a powerful example of how a multidisciplinary team from interiors to urban design and public health to architecture can de-silo research and support systems-level solutions,” adds Eitland.

Now, the team will continue to develop the tool outside of Excel using data analytics platform Power BI and an application programming interface that will retrieve data from their sources directly. Harvard Graduate School of Design, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Wentworth Institute of Technology will act as academic partners throughout the process. The PRECEDE dashboard pilot will then be delivered to ASID Foundation, after which it will make the rounds at conferences and within partnerships.

Joining Eitland on Perkins&Will’s awarded team are David Cordell, Amina Helstern, Tyrone Mashall, and Devika Tandon. The ASID Foundation Research Committee selected winning projects based on the significance of the study, innovation in research questions, strength of methodology, applicability of findings, and more.

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