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Wayfinding in hospitals “not about signage”

Posted on Wed 27th Feb, 2019 in: Hospital Design

hospital directional signage

Leading healthcare architect claims people don’t use signs and hospitals should be more like Disneyland


In an article published this week on bizjournals.com, a number of US based healthcare architects share their views on how wayfinding in hospital environments is changing and, in many ways, moving away from the traditional methods of communicating how to navigate the space. This incorporates developments in technology, such as the use of interactive apps, as well as physical visual methods other than traditional navigational signage.


Will Chmylak, principal at HMN Architects Inc., believes that the whole facility should act as wayfinding tool, right from the car park. As with Disneyland, the experience starts the moment you enter the property. If you have to ask for directions, it can set a patient (who may well already feel anxious and disoriented) up for a negative experience regardless of quality of care.


With regard to signage, Chmylak believes that people don’t use them because it’s like “a set of instructions and a kid” believing that human nature dictates that people have an aversion to following them. Instead, he advocates a number of other visual cues to help people navigate what can be ‘maze-like’ spaces. He believes a dominant parking structure can highlight the main entrance to the hospital and that the architecture itself should direct people in using glass or raised roof lines. He also recommends creating ‘nodes’ within the building which is a hub from where everywhere can be navigated in relation to this location. This should use glass and natural light because people can relate to where they are if they can see outside.


In the article, another architect, Rick Embers - principal at Pulse Design Group, writes about how app technology is completely remodelling patient experience but he also talks about how visual cues also have a role such as adding an area of importance “such as a very recognizable piece of art, a bright colour or “something that kind of slaps you in the face” to help patients orient themselves in large facilities”.


The whole piece has some really interesting ideas and we do agree that technology will change the way we find our way round complex spaces but we think that visual directional cues will continue to be an important part of wayfinding strategy for a long time. We would contest the idea that people don’t use signage – directional signage is still the first point of reference for most people and, done well, it remains very helpful – but agree that it works best when incorporated into a wider design scheme for wayfinding: one that includes visual cues such as large format wall murals, the combination of text and images and 3 dimensional ‘anchors’ that all help identify locations. Throw into the mix the issues associated with dementia and other conditions that affect people’s ability to interpret signage and the need for an integrated, multi-faceted approach to wayfinding becomes all the more important.




Our wayfinding tools include directional signage and wall murals as well as dementia friendly products including dementia signage, memory boxes, Kodak digital displays and digital fish tanks.


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