Critical Concepts for Designing an Integrated Hospital Wayfinding System
In our experience, large general hospitals are the most complex spaces for place branding and wayfinding – but offer the best opportunity for this type of impact. Hospital facilities themselves are getting larger and more complex; changing from what was once a series of smaller buildings into a vast space that sometimes spans several football fields in length. The complex challenge that must be addressed is how to get a variety of people with vastly different needs around a large medical center effectively. Vendors, patients and visitors all need different information at each stage of their journey.
We start by touching on the basic principles of wayfinding, discuss pre-visit, on-campus and in-facility orientation; discuss human factor design issues, and move into a more detailed discussion of hospital wayfinding strategy and key design considerations. We explore the needs of the visually impaired and visitors with other disabilities with the resulting benefit that an inclusive system will often prove superior to all users and be more cost-effective in the long run. Several of our own hospital system place branding and wayfinding projects are briefly discussed – including Alberta Health Sciences (AHS) which is a massive new healthcare system project that opened in 2015, but which will not be fully completed until 2025. AHS presents both the dual challenge of a massive scale project where wayfinding is fully integrated with architecture and landscape design as well as an extended timeline with various phase completions, and departments and clinics becoming progressively active at different times.
The biggest challenge in the planning of a Wayfinding system is the proper allocation of budgets and cost often as part of a multi-year capital expenditure planning process. The result is that the implementation process is either downsized, implementation extends over a longer time period (causing confusion) or the project is postponed until the appropriate budget is available. In each of these cases, a lack of efficiency is created, increasing the risk for friction, for lack of clarity, or for a change in key project team members. This results inevitably in higher costs overall. In order to provide a helpful understanding of a wayfinding project budget allocation, this whitepaper provides a smaller scale hypothetical example including a list of sign formats and sizes that will provide a useful benchmark. Pricing and assumptions are provided for exterior identification and wayfinding; interior directory and wayfinding; room identification systems; as well as design consulting and planning fees.
We seek to illustrated that while complex, a well thought out and structured wayfinding system is critical to the success and usability of a healthcare facility. It effectively incorporates many elements from integrated architecture, landscaping and artwork; the use of colour, light, symbols and icons; and elements to aid people with disabilities. A wayfinding system, which may start off-campus, and certainly engages visitors at the main campus entrances, parking locations and the main entrance / lobby area are the first encounters that visitors and patients have with a hospital facility. With the increasing focus on patient and visitor experience, the role of a well-defined, and easy to use wayfinding system within increasingly larger and more complex healthcare facilities is clearly an essential service.