Wayfinding is an inescapable component of healthcare design. And if you think it’s all about signage, there are at least two designers who’d likely tell you you’re dead wrong.

Chris Bowles, senior graphic designer, and Marisabel Marratt, associate and senior designer, both from Stanley Beaman & Sears (SBS; Atlanta), identified that and a few other common myths about wayfinding during a webinar I moderated as part of Healthcare Design’s International Interior Design Association (IIDA) Education Day held April 25.

Here’s what the team noted as often wrongly assumed when it comes to wayfinding:

  • Wayfinding is easy.
  • Bigger and more signs will take care of a wayfinding problem.
  • Wayfinding is a one-size-fits-all, one-time solution.
  • Wayfinding is just signage.

So how do you avoid going down these paths toward wayfinding inadequacies? Bowles and Marratt said to first focus on creating a meaningful, holistic experience through an integrated approach that combines a variety of disciplines—architecture, interior design, and environmental graphic design, with the possible addition of engineering.

Due to the specific complexities of healthcare environments, SBS finds that working together creates a design that enriches the patient experience, rather than detracting from it.

However, while that process stands to improve the end result, what it can’t do is change the fact that facilities will remain inherently complex: “It is what it is—it’s what patients have to go through to get checked into a hospital,” Bowles said during the webinar. 

So when the SBS team starts focusing on what that journey is, key areas start emerging that can be used to reinforce the design concept. Think of areas where people linger and how to create opportunities for focal points with feature walls or specialty materials, Marratt suggested. And identify key stops along the way, such as welcome areas, play spaces for children, clinical areas, research centers, etc.

Understanding how architecture influences those spaces, and enriching it to make unfamiliar spaces not only navigable but memorable, is all part of the integration—not adding another sign or simply repeating what you’ve done in other areas.

I’m going to be talking to Bowles and Marratt, as well as other industry experts, more about wayfinding for an article scheduled to appear in the July issue of Healthcare Design and online. I’ll dig into the myths, how to avoid them, and target what makes a wayfinding program successful.

In the meantime, if you want to listen to the April 25 webinar, an archived recording of the event will be available here.