Healthcare facilities are becoming ever more complex, making them more maze-like and unfriendly to their users. Factors such as poor vision, low literacy levels, and multilingual needs blend to become a nightmare when attempts at communicating complex medical jargon are made. Often the user is overwhelmed by the experience, feeling stressed and intimidated. In an ever more competitive marketplace, though, customers' perceptions of the facility are important; a medical facility should be perceived as a loving, inviting place that is integral to the healing process. Nowhere is this message communicated more clearly than at the point where the customer initially encounters the facility—at the wayfinding system.
The Uses of Wayfinding
Wayfinding uses the whole environment and patients' preconceptions to help patients find their way. It uses a wide range of clues, or cues, to help patients self-navigate into, around and out of a facility. These cues communicate on cognitive and subliminal levels; they include architecture, landscaping, color, lighting, and posted information in the form of signs. These elements work independently, yet in a shared environment, to direct people from one predetermined decision point to the next until the destination is reached. As individuals become acclimated to the spaces, the cues still function within the space as decorative features.
As indicated, signage is a crucial element in successful wayfinding. Effective signage identifies, informs, and directs; it contributes to a visual hierarchy for the entire built space. Examples in this article illustrate how this works. Attention initially, though, should focus on how effective wayfinding planning works.
Planning an effective wayfinding program requires a collaborative effort involving consultants and all levels of staff. An experienced wayfinding consultant should orchestrate the project, encouraging every discipline to bring its unique perspective and insight to the table. Thus, there are several members of this overall team, including, but not limited to, the project architect, the interior designer, the landscape architect, the wayfinding consultant, and the general contractor. Each member has a separate duty, but these duties come together to complete the wayfinding project, i.e.:
The project architect brings the overall project vision to all of the team members.
The architectural/interiors group takes the lead in determining the project color palette, as well as the building's overall form and function.
The landscape architect has to create a streetscape that works well with exterior elements of the building and functions well with exterior wayfinding.
The general contractor has to make all of the other functions work together; the design team, therefore, has to work closely with the general contractor to finalize plans for such issues as power requirements, coping with additional structures that may interfere with the plan, acquiring easements, and dealing with any permit issues that may come up.
From the standpoint of the signage designer, unique architectural features should be incorporated into the lexicon of interior and exterior signage, with signage contributing to a “streetscape” that accentuates principal features of the campus (figure 1). Signage, even if no longer needed as a communications tool, should blend in with the overall design.