Navigating the Art and Science of Healthcare Wayfinding

In the intricate world of healthcare environments, the importance of wayfinding cannot be overstated.

We’ve all been there: navigating through a large hospital that lacks sufficient signage, wandering and searching, and, ultimately, asking for directions. For visitors and patients, it can be daunting, time-consuming, and frustrating. For staff, it can add a layer of wasted time and effort providing direction and guidance.

This article explores the impact of wayfinding on the overall experience and how ID Signsystems has become a leader in developing and utilizing wayfinding signage for healthcare environments.

Let’s first define why wayfinding is vital in a hospital or other large healthcare facility.

Wayfinding is pivotal in hospitals due to their intricate layouts, multiple departments, complex building environments, and diverse services.

Patients and visitors often experience stress, come from diverse backgrounds, and experience anxiety because of the nature of their visit. Hospitals are similar in wayfinding needs to any large, complex facility with a diverse audience like airports and stadiums, with an added layer of accessibility and maintenance needs. 

Like these places, a successful wayfinding system must meet the following goals:

✅ Provide guidance to and recognition of destinations with minimal external support.|

✅ Integrate into the digital and physical architecture of the facility, including identity, colors, materials, and lighting.

✅ Can be maintained, expanded, and updated easily and cost-effectively.

The Wayfinding Study: Building an Experiential Master Plan

Creating a wayfinding program begins with a wayfinding study — a comprehensive analysis of the current navigation experience within a campus or facility. The study aims to establish a baseline for improving the wayfinding experience and align institutional goals with the overall wayfinding strategy. 

A wayfinding study involves three key components:

A Stakeholder Survey. This is done to establish the experiences and goals within the organization, including an analysis of the existing visitor base and its demographic profile. This is conducted with close engagement and feedback from the hospital marketing, facilities, and customer experience teams. Surveys can also include interviews with patients and visitors.

A Physical Survey. This involves a complete review of the facility and utilizes cloud-based software to analyze signs, landmarks, and key locations within the institution.

Best Practices Research. This research examines best practices from similar healthcare institutions and larger experiential practices to inform the study with shared experiences. 

Once this groundwork is done, the subsequent phase of the wayfinding study involves developing initial recommendations based on the findings of the stakeholders and physical surveys. A conceptual sign element vocabulary is created, involving the development of visual elements with photorealistic renderings in the specific healthcare setting. 

In the final stage of the study, a presentation of the findings and recommendations is delivered and reviewed, leading to a recommendations report and subsequent action plan. This systematic approach provides a comprehensive and informed wayfinding strategy regardless of market, client, or facility size. A typical wayfinding survey can be completed in 4-6 weeks, with factors like facility size and base plans influencing the timeline.  

The report is a call to action by the facility and includes specific recommendations for future projects including prototyping systems, phased projects, guidelines development, and management training.


 IDS and Survey Tools

IDS has developed tools that have made the survey approach among the most effective. The leading area is the utilization of sophisticated, software and tools that make developing wayfinding programs possible.

At IDS, we use Wayfindit, a cloud-based wayfinding survey software. For 3D modeling, we use various tools, including Sketchup, Solidworks, Rhino, and other rendering tools. These tools allow us to translate surveys into possible solutions and final projects more efficiently while minimizing duplicate work.

While the basic process remains consistent across projects, the approach is adapted based on client needs. For instance, the surveys IDS completed for Mount Sinai Hospitals differed from that of Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center (a project on which IDS partnered with brand implementation agency Brandactive), considering factors like in-house wayfinding expertise and diverse facility requirements.


Beyond Healthcare

Beyond conducting wayfinding studies, IDS offers various supports, including design services and prototype reviews. Our goal is to provide assistance and collaboration to ensure the best outcomes for each client. We continue to contribute to the improvement of wayfinding in any campus environment.

Wayfinding studies aren’t reserved for healthcare environments. IDS conducts surveys for other key markets, including corporate, collegiate, and municipal, among others. While fundamentally similar in process, the studies can vary. Universities tend to focus on the entire campus, with exterior and interior experiences having equal weight. Transportation facilities have considerable regulatory needs that require more extensive review and planning coordination. 

Regardless of market or client, our wayfinding process and tailored solutions underscore the importance of a well-thought-out approach in creating an optimal navigation experience.

Need to refresh, streamline, or expand your wayfinding program? Contact the IDS team to explore our wayfinding survey capabilities for your facility.

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