What are the two key steps to a great dental office design?

By Paul Leonard, Senior Practice Designer

Spoiler alert: Step One is not a dental office Floor Plan.

For your dental office to attract customers at a tremendous rate, it needs the look and feel of a spa, but at the same time it has to function as a highly-efficient, dentistry-producing, factory! Most dental office designs do a decent job at one or the other of these goals, but never a great job at both. At Design Ergonomics, we understand that to accomplish both of these divergent goals simultaneously requires a very detailed planning rule set with a two-step approach that gets to the essence of your dental office design as accurately as possible – without wasting time … or your money.

Step One: The Dental Office Blocking Diagram

Keep it conceptual. Start the process by defining your ideal dental office workflow. It’s tempting to start your dental office design by thinking about architectural elements, or even interior design, but it’s critical to your success to start the design process in a conceptual manner. You may have some vision of what you want the practice to look like artistically … but just don’t start the process there. Resist that urge. You’ll have plenty of time to focus on those design elements later.

And don’t start the design process with a Floor Plan! That will just lock you in by focusing in on things rather than workflow. One of the reasons that some other companies start with a floor plan is that it works to lock in equipment. But, that’s a subject for another blog post …

To keep it conceptual as you start the dental office design process, you should first create a Blocking Diagram. The Blocking Diagram will define the workflow in your office and is the perfect way to understand the functional demands of each space and how they relate to one another. It will clarify your goals for the future and solidify your vision of the perfect practice.

Take your time as you work with your design team on the Blocking Diagram. Carefully think about what kind of dental office systems you envision before you get to a detailed Floor Plan. This is the place to start to make revisions and try different possibilities.

A Blocking Diagram focuses on workflow. What are the ideal systems for your dental office?

Blocking Diagrams are sometimes referred to as Bubble Diagrams or “Programming” and have been around for a long time as a proven way to view the parts in a system before getting to a detailed schematic. They are often used in engineering and hardware design, and the most effective way to use a Blocking Diagram is by making many small changes, reviewing them with your team, and repeating that process. They’ve also been used by architects for many years to help with the design and space planning process.

At Design Ergonomics, we use Blocking Diagrams to quickly and efficiently capture workflow and spatial capacity to ensure that optimal office flow is achieved. It might even take 3 or 4 rounds of moving blocks around to realize that you, and your team, have the ideal layout for your office locked in. When we are working on your Blocking Diagram, we will commonly research 6 or 7 possibilities before we even meet to discuss our thinking with you.

To put your building blocks (waiting room, operatories, sterilization area, lab, front desk, consult room, etc.) down in a diagram, you need to have a good sense of some important parameters such as:

  • How productive do you wish to be?
  • What procedures will you do?
  • What is the practice model? Will it be higher flow or more specialized?

The square footage needed for each of your building blocks will change with these parameters. But, only once you have these objectives set are you ready to figure out how to fit them all in with the least amount of compromise. And be prepared, because if you are trying it yourself, this process can actually be quite challenging!

Step Two: The Dental Office Floor Plan

After you’ve defined your office flow with a Blocking Diagram, you need to translate those conceptual elements into a formal drawing – what we all know as the Floor Plan. The conceptual work of creating a great Blocking Diagram will result in a much better Floor Plan.

The Floor Plan is the most important document in the dental office design process. People that sell you supplies will often give you a free floor plan.

You can get a dental office Floor Plan for free at most dental dealers. And for many doctors who perhaps aren’t trying to achieve that much in the way of production, that option is probably realistic. But for doctors that want to achieve more, you really need to carefully craft your plan.

Understand that every dollar spent on careful planning will result in reduced construction costs, dental equipment savings, and the potential for doubling or even tripling productivity. That’s why we do this work! It’s transformational.

The Floor Plan needs to depict the specific details you’ve conceptualized for the flow of your dental office, as a system, and it must be technically accurate so it can serve as the basis for all subsequent construction documents. Missteps and oversights at this stage can snowball into costly changes down the road. It’s not very difficult for an architect to change the location of a door, or the orientation of a room, but it might have a dramatic and detrimental impact on traffic flow in your new dental office. So, make sure that your conceptual office flow matches the detailed drawing you create with the Floor Plan. And don’t compromise on the vision you’ve created for your ideal dental office system. Everything needs to flow perfectly for you to create an environment that’s efficient and comfortable for you, your staff, and your patients.

There are steps in the process of building a dental office that will come before and after the Blocking Diagram and Floor Plan. For example, before you get started, you will need to select a geographic location and have a pretty good sense of your available financing. And, after the Blocking Diagram and Floor Plan, you’ll need to work with your construction and interior design team. But the heart of the dental office design process, and the key to getting your vision right, are the Blocking Diagram and Floor Plan.

Paul Leonard

By Paul Leonard. When I’m not working with my team to design the best dental practices across North America, I enjoy surfing, mountain biking, woodworking, and playing drums.