Robert Pataki Award for Healthcare Design


New for 2024, Good Design Australia is proud to launch the Robert Pataki Award for Healthcare Design, in partnership with the Pataki Family. 

Named in honour of Robert Pataki OAM, recipient of the 2022 Australian Design Prize, Life Fellow of the Design Institute of Australia and industrial design pioneer, the Robert Pataki Award for Healthcare Design aims to inspire, recognise and support design solutions that have the potential to improve the lives of people living or working within the healthcare system.

The Award is open to students, designers, inventors and creators from Australia and New Zealand and welcomes concepts and innovations already in use across product design, digital apps, services, policy and beyond.

This new Special Accolade responds to deficiencies in the healthcare system that have impacted the Pataki family as Robert’s health has declined over the last decade, and the need for innovation across the board, from hospitals and rehab facilities, to aged care centres. 

Safe n’ Sound baby capsule concept sketches. Image: Robert Pataki and Philip Slattery

“We are so proud to support this new Award which has the power to generate more ideas and better solutions for people interacting with the healthcare system,” commented Rachel Wye, Director of Good Design Australia. “It seems that most of us, unfortunately, have had experiences where the healthcare system has let us down, or fallen short of what we would expect from a place that is meant to heal and care for people. 

“With a rapidly ageing population in most countries around the world, there is no better time for designers to turn their attention to solving some of these really important challenges for a whole area of our society that often gets overlooked.”

In conversation with Robert’s wife Jackie and daughter Michelle, they highlighted the need for design-led solutions that have a positive impact on dignity, quality of life and experience for elderly, differently-abled individuals and caregivers. The importance of moving beyond a strictly patient-centric perspective was front-of-mind.

“Most people often just design from a patient viewpoint in the healthcare space, but there’s a whole ecosystem that supports and enables our loved ones to be cared for,” said Michelle. “The nurses, the assistants, the carers, the cooking staff, the cleaners, the admin… there’s so many layers to healthcare, and this is just aged care we’re talking about right now!” 

Jackie continued by describing the minimal resources that were available to care staff in Robert’s aged care experience:

“As silly as it might sound, one of the most used and important items in Rob’s room in the beginning of his journey was a sheet of polyester fabric – something that’s placed under a person to be able to roll and move them, and it’s only a piece of fabric!

“Carers are often much smaller in size than their patients, which makes it an incredibly difficult task! It quickly became clear to us, particularly as a family of designers, that they didn’t have the right tools to do what was being asked of them. 

“We very quickly became aware of significant and concerning deficiencies in a system that we may all find ourselves in one day.”

Jackie Pataki

Challenging the contemporary healthcare designer’s conundrum 

The Robert Pataki Award for Healthcare Design will recognise healthcare innovations in both conceptual and fully-formed stages, with support and mentorship available to help commercialise exemplar solutions.

According to Jackie and Michelle, it’s an approach that hopes to, in part, side-step outside influences that have the potential to “water down” the integrity of the final design. It also ensures each entry aligns with a way of thinking Robert solidified under the guidance of lecturer Gerard Herbst as a student at RMIT – form must always follow function.

Highlighting the reality faced by many designers where this principle of good design comes into jeopardy, Jackie reflected on a decades-old project surrounding a chair design in a clinical setting:

“As designers, we had to become aware of the problem from all angles – the individuals, Australian Standards, cleanability, things like that. Yet, when it actually came to the crunch, dollars won out, profitability won out.”

“Through the democratisation of the design process and the often reductive processes projects undergo, products end up being compromised, not just for the people who are using them, but for the carers too,” added Michelle. 

Beyond cost-cutting, Jackie and Michelle underlined a variety of other design challenges with the potential to undermine the true impact of a solution:

  • Designers’ input can get diluted or lost as projects progress if they don’t maintain control over the design process
  • Existing policies and standards within healthcare facilities are not always designed with usability or sustainability in mind
  • Healthcare is a complex system with many stakeholders, so engagement with the right people, who have the right insights (physios and caregivers in Robert’s case) is often difficult or overlooked
  • Products are not always versatile or adaptable enough to support patients’ changing conditions over time

Assertiveness, autonomy, integrity and discipline were described as key attributes of a designer able to counteract such pressures.

“Dad was really a pioneer in putting his foot down and saying, ‘this is where design is important and I’m not going to compromise on the quality of that.'”

Michelle Hyams

“It’s something that I’ve also seen Future Friendly apply in their design approach. They’re quite disciplined and rigorous in their design process, and by maintaining the rigour they maintain the integrity of the process, the design and the value of the solution.”

Setting sights on a brighter future for healthcare with design

modClave – 2023 Next Gen Good Design Award Gold Winner – is modular sterilisation desktop appliance that supports small-to-medium sized medical practices to eliminate waste of metal-ware instruments. Image: Issac Bonora

The Robert Pataki Award for Healthcare Design calls for individuals of any age residing in Australia or New Zealand. Designs aren’t required to be commercially available, but should address critical deficiencies within the healthcare system and demonstrate strong potential for commercialisation. 

Successful entries may receive mentorship and guidance from professionals working in the field to refine or materialise their concepts.

“We hope that this Award will stimulate and increase discussion on what solutions are really needed within the healthcare space, how they will affect the end users, and how design can improve and assist the quality of life for our most vulnerable populations,” remarked Jackie.

“At the end of the day, the solutions that we award the prize to aren’t going to help Dad,” admitted Michelle in closing. “But, our goal is they’ll help others in the future.” 

“And for the winning designers, we hope that this award will help them further their careers, their plans and their dreams.” said Jackie. 

The 2024 Australian Good Design Awards are now open, with submissions closing at midnight Friday 3rd May. Join the Design Effect movement and push not only the world of the design, but our society, environment and future forward.

Submit entry

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