Form follows function.

It’s been one of the fundamental tenets of modern design over the last century. While intuitively it seems to make good sense, does it allow for, or place appropriate value on patient comfort or an individual’s personality when it comes to their working environment?

A modern practice needs to be as efficient as possible to accommodate the requirements of those who operate in it, but this efficiency should not come at the cost of patient comfort or the opportunity to create a unique positive patient experience. Visiting a practice can be an anxious time for many patients and although you may be confident in your ability to treat them, does your practice, and indeed their patient experience accurately reflect that level of confidence?

Creating an environment that strikes the perfect balance between efficiency and patient comfort while communicating your unique personality is a difficult task and one best left to an expert. This is where a specialist practice designer can help.


Some believe it to be a decorating exercise. Some believe it to be a planning exercise. Some believe it to be a fashion solution based on personal likes and dislikes. In fact, effective practice design is a combination of the following:

  • A study of your real requirements on a business level.
  • The ability to understand and distil your ideas into a practical solution that addresses your requirements.
  • The creativity to bring it all together in a harmonious environment that enhances your delivery of care.

It’s easy to think that the design of your practice is something you can do yourself. After all, you know what you want, you know yourself better than anyone and you can surely bring a sense of your personality to the design.

While this may seem like an economical option at the outset, more often than not the outcomes are poor, with oversights and compliance issues only becoming apparent months after completion. Good practice design requires a specific set of skills and considerable experience for the best results. So do you contract a complete design and build solution or tender each part of the overall project and coordinate it yourself.

Again, while it may seem to make sense economically, you should be aware that when the design and construction of your new practice has been spread among several different providers, the responsibility is diminished.

If mistakes are made, you may find yourself in a situation where individual contractors are blaming each other and you  are stuck in the middle with an expensive mess.

Coordinating the design and build of a new practice is time intensive activity that requires a lot of energy and a significant time commitment. By engaging a complete solution provider, you are able to take a behind the scenes approach and may be able to continue a normal working life while your new practice takes shape. In addition to the time benefits, the responsibility for the outcome is with a single company. There is no place to hide if things don’t go according to plan.

The Design Brief

A specialist practice designer will take a holistic approach, taking the time to understand your particular needs and desires before starting to design your practice. The designer will compile your thoughts and wishes and those of your key staff and stakeholders into a comprehensive design brief that fully captures the intent of your new practice. These initial discussions give you an opportunity to tell the designer how you work, the particular equipment you require, your patient demographic and any specific themes or feeling you’d like to convey in your new practice.

Most importantly, your designer will come to know and understand your personality and values and be able to communicate these in the design concept. The design brief is the cornerstone of the new development, informing all design decisions for the project. Getting it right is a crucial first step towards a good practice design.

With a completed design brief, your practice designer will now be able to translate the information into design concepts that address each element of the brief in a manner congruent with your vision. An experienced designer will also accommodate any compliance requirements and incorporate these into the design solution. Compliance requirements related to parking bays, infection control, disabled access, accreditation, plumbing, electrical, radiation shielding and a range of other statutory obligations should all be addressed in a comprehensive design offer.

Operational efficiency (the function in form follows function) is paramount in your treatment areas and the way you work will influence how your treatment rooms are planned. Specialist equipment and working space requirements are all factors your designer will take into account when planning your treatment rooms.

Perhaps you like to take notes or need to access a computer while treating a patient - your designer can allow for this and design your treatment areas accordingly.

In the next stage of the design process, your designer will create a floorplan showing the location and dimensions of all relevant equipment, doors, windows and provide you with an overview of the operational flow of the new practice. On the floorplan, you will be able to see clearly the different sections for patients and staff and you can see the interaction of the various spaces.

Once the floorplan has been finalised, any necessary council approvals applications are submitted.

A sneak preview

Three dimensional renders of the new practice can give you an excellent preview of what the space will look like once completed. Your designer should be able to provide you with initial renders of the design at this stage so you can get a feel for the final result before the practice is built. Textures, colours and furniture selection are vital in creating an atmosphere to put your patients at ease, to make them feel comfortable in your environment.

There is an enormous range of fabrics, styles and colour options to choose from, and the choices can be overwhelming. Durability, ease of care and specifics like fire indices ratings are just some of the factors that influence decisions on the types and styles of your fabrics and furnishings.

Your designer should be abreast of the latest developments and technologies and provide options that suit your requirements while creating the ambience you want for your patients. Samples of the fabrics, textures and colours will give you a chance to get a “hands on” impression.

Your reception and waiting areas are often your patients first impression of your operation and it’s important to make it a good one. Putting them at ease and providing a comfortable environment is vital.

Your patient’s positive experience shouldn’t stop once they leave the comfort of the waiting room and enter the treatment areas and the designer should create a level of continuity between the two areas and provide a sense of flow so your patients don’t feel disorientated moving from one area to the next.

The construction phase.

Once the design has been finalised, your new practice enters the construction phase. If the project requires significant construction, a building license will be required to complete the work. Whether you are completing a ground up build or a renovation of an existing building, specialist project management skills are essential to effectively coordinate the required trades and service providers and keep your project on track.

Many dental specialists, particularly those that choose to manage their own builds or fit outs, underestimate the time involved in managing a construction project.

Experienced construction project managers are highly skilled time managers and are able to drive your project through to completion on time. It is in this phase of the development that the benefits of dealing with a single company becomes strikingly clear as the project manager is able to confer with the designer and address any issues as they arise.

Once construction is complete, your practice is ready for handover.

Your practice handover should include complete and comprehensive documentation of the building process and all equipment installations and associated documentation.

Your new practice is now open for operation, delivering your unique brand of patient care and providing you and your staff with the best possible working environment. Designing and building a new practice is a significant undertaking. By engaging the services of specialists, it can also be immensely rewarding for you, your staff and your patients.