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News archive - May 2015

Show me the way

Show me the way

Identity, clarity, terminology, information, flexibility and zoning are all vital for good wayfinding, particularly in complex healthcare environments.

Having worked on projects for Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust; HCA Group; East Kent University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust; and Mediclinic International, Endpoint has now drawn up a best practice guide on what new ideas and technologies may drive improvements to the patient experience.

The first consideration is identity - naming areas and individual departments is key.

Alison Richings, the company’s wayfinding design director, explained: “During the strategy phase of one of our projects we witnessed elderly users entering the sexual health clinic within a hospital looking for the dental department. They were lost because they didn’t realise that the ‘orthodontic’ department was the dental department. Instead they opted for the GUM Clinic - genito-urinary medicine - the name for the sexual health department, as ‘GUM’ was the nearest term to ‘teeth’.

Clear and concise

“When designing wayfinding schemes, there can be no ambiguity about the terms used. Names need to be literally functional and they need to be easy to read and to pronounce.”

Consistency is also vital. Signage should be the same across all areas and should match up with information given in outpatient and clinic letters and by hospital staff.

Richings said: “During a recent project in a general hospital the client expressed concern over users finding the X-ray department. Despite it being in a prime position, patients struggled to find it.

“What we discovered was that the consultants in outpatients were asking users to go to ‘radiology’, whereas the signs were labelled ‘X-ray’. No extra signage in the world could solve the inconsistencies, only communication with consultants about their role in wayfinding would cure the problem.”

Professional terminology should also be avoided at all costs.

“Designs should strike a balance between the need for ‘professional’ terminology and the needs of users for simple, easy-to-understand terms,” said Richings.

“Should the ‘geriatric’ ward become ‘elderly care’? Should ‘renal’ become ‘kidneys’, and ‘phlebotomy’ become ‘blood tests’?”

The choice of materials is another important consideration.

“Hardwearing, adaptable etc are all a given, but selecting a germ-resistant material and designing the form of the product to minimise trapped dust or dirt, is key,” said Richings

“At London Bridge Hospital we designed a magnetic system that made signs easy to remove and clean.”

She also advises opting for solutions that are flexible and can be updated without changing bespoke panels each time.

“Wayfinding is as important as lighting, decoration or interiors and should be considered earlier than you might think,” she added. “You wouldn’t open a hospital without lighting the corridors properly. Yet, typically, wayfinding is left to the last minute, has little or no budget, and the scope is usually put in the hands of contractors who have no specific expertise in it.”

In new-build projects wayfinding should be considered as early as possible in the design process, with liaison between the interior design team, architects and the client.

Small steps

“Some of the best collaborations have seen wayfinding schemes that cleverly make use of, and are embedded within, the structure of the architecture itself,” said Richings.

“Wayfinding is not just about signs, and more signs are not the answer to all problems. Wayfinding is everything we see, hear, touch and smell on every part of our journey from the moment we decide to travel.”

Zoning can help with this, using graphics or colours to further identify particular wards or departments.

So what about the future?

Digital systems are increasingly being launched, enabling patients to take a virtual tour of a building before they visit via an online walk-through.

Richings said: “The biggest barrier to widescale adoption of innovation with digital is short-termism. Innovations are perceived to be fast moving and survive for only a short time before being superceded by the ‘next big thing’. Healthcare environments require high-impact, lower-cost, long-term design that is simple to maintain. We believe healthcare will adopt technology for wayfinding in small steps that use well-tested, established technology.”

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