Stepping away from the clinical environment and into a sanctuary.

Creating a ‘Sanctuary’ and Supportive Environment


Staying True to Macmillan’s Mission & Values

How do you approach the design of a help centre that enhances the users experience and deliver a set of guidelines for future site rollouts? This was I-AM’s task, starting with three trial sites across the UK. Motivated by Macmillan’s commitment to be the best support and care for people living with cancer –  we aimed to translate their mission through a customer journey that allows for efficiency alongside being a ‘sanctuary’.

Macmillan Cancer Support is committed to improving the lives of everyone affected by cancer and inspiring others to do the same. Providing the adequate support to help people affected by cancer feel more in control of their lives. Achieving this aim thanks to a workforce that represent the people it supports. Followed by engaging other peoples’ help and involvement with fundraising, to volunteering and campaigning. “Together we are all Macmillan.” Macmillan’s driving force and mission is to have more people than ever before being inspired to get or give support. To be trusted as experts, especially by Health and Social Care managers and policy makers, along with their products and services being known, loved and well used. 

Inspired by the Heritage

In 1911, Douglas Macmillan lost his father to cancer and subsequently founded the ‘Society for the Prevention and Relief of Cancer’. Allowing advice and information to be provided to all people with cancer, residences for patients at low or no cost, and volunteer nurses to tend to patients in their homes. Today, Macmillan has grown to be the UK’s leading source of cancer support.

Building a ‘Sanctuary’: Creating an Environment that Provides Comfort and Support

Our insight work led us to understand that the usual expectations of these sort of centres have always been rather low. Therefore, Macmillan tasked us with raising the bar, so that they could efficiently assist with sensitivity, the various requests of people entering their help centres.

Macmillan’s Information & Support centre differentiates itself by being able to curate to a range of needs, and especially the creation of a ‘sanctuary’ away from the clinical environment of a hospital. We designed Macmillan’s Information & Support centres to be more than just physical spaces. Leading with the fact that they are patient focused and designed to respond to the whole person – emotional, practical, social and sensory, as well as their medical condition.

Enhancing the Patient Journey and Experience

The main objective, was to develop a concept that could best accommodate a spectrum of needs, which Macmillan has been trying to support. On a more global scale, the aim is to push Macmillan’s reputation in a direction that showcases them as specialists in the field of cancer care & support. To achieve this, we improved the user experience by focusing on the customer journey.

The Attraction stage focused on the fascia, windows and exterior architecture to seem more appealing and to promote the Macmillan Foundation’s services. Followed by the Threshold phase, for which we re-designed the welcome point and lounge area with a softer and warmer interior. And for the Orientation aspect, we improved the external and wayfinding signage, to help construct a clearer pathway for people.

Help Centre’s Motivated by a Life-Led Experience Design Approach

Looking to shift ‘the end of life’ associative position of Macmillan to ‘support for people living with cancer’. We developed the concept of “Life” which was broken down into three themes, air, earth and water. These themes were implemented across three sites, Weston Super Mare, Glan Clwyd and Stoke on Trent. We collaborated with artist, Julia Contacessi to paint three original A0 size canvases to coordinate with the overall ‘Life’ concept for the Macmillan Cancer Support centres, specifically incorporating each natural element.

The three centres configuration are similar, with seven structures and two focal areas. The first being the ‘Quiet Room’, which embodies a safe space with ambient branding; and Contacessi’s paintings that generate a peaceful atmosphere with its abstract takes on natural scenes. The second, is the ‘Information Resource Area’, where one can find helpful content and local support.

We re-designed the outer architecture to feel inviting and accessible to all, whilst respecting privacy with no barriers or walls but sliding glass doors. The patterns printed on the glass and wallpaper, are different for each theme yet share a similar overall aesthetic. We built on the Macmillan’s brand colours and added a few shades to allow variation. The main entrance includes a wooden portal above the doors creating a certain warmth and a fascia panel in the Macmillan iconic green.

The welcome point is balanced between looking homely and professional, serving free coffee and tea to make it engaging and relaxing. The Library which offers a range of informative flyers is organised with newly formed signage, allowing people to find their way on their own.  As for the Lounge area, it is styled with Scandinavian-type furniture that has natural textured finishes for a modern, clean and comfortable environment. Another significant aspect within the space structure, is the Community board, which allows for messages and events to be shared with the local community – representing another form of support.

What we did

Interior Design
Environmental Branding
Customer Journey Analysis
Signage Design