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How To Create A Wayfinding Strategy

Inspired by other national children’s hospitals, Akron Children’s Hospital wanted to provide a better all-around patient experience that they could implement to not only their hospital but their offsite locations.

Spend a week in the staff and visitors' shoes.

And so the discovery phase begins. In this phase we traveled up to Akron and spent a whole week traveling their hallways, driving their streets, and interviewing staff and patients so we could figure out how the wayfinding was working. We recorded traffic flow inside and outside, looked for the telltale “lost circle” that people do when they don’t know which way to go, and sent in secret shoppers to find their way to a certain amount of set locations. At the same time, we took a fine-tooth comb to the website, mobile app, and printed maps to find any and all inconsistencies.

From our discovery, a compilation of critical wayfinding issues was found as well as inconsistencies in how visitors were directed to the hospital and where to park. We now knew exactly what was needed and how we could begin to help. Since the patient experience starts at home, we began mapping out the breadcrumbs to get the visitor to the correct parking garage, into the correct building, then the floor, and ultimately the department or room that will be their destination on that visit. We call this journey mapping. It helps us see the campus from a 10,000-foot view as well as point out where signs should go, what signs should be removed, what signs have copy that needs edited, and what signs are placed well.

This also helps us show the client how their visitors are entering their campus and how they are getting to where they need to go once within the campus buildings.

Integration of the brand

Let’s back up a bit and look at the campus from a visitor's point of view driving in. Where is the brand? Is it visible as you drive in? Do the exterior signs direct you easily to the parking garage you need to go to? Let us ask you: How do you end up at the hospital that is across the street from the one you really need to go to? Unbranded exterior signage is the simple answer.

Yes, one of the issues was that across from the Emergency Department signage for Akron Children’s Hospital was an entrance to another hospital in downtown Akron. Simple fix? Branding. Applying their brand to the emergency department parking entrance signage is very helpful to have the branding on all exterior wayfinding signage so the visitor knows they are indeed going to the children’s hospital.

Realize that parking can be a wayfinding nightmare

Still looking at the campus, even though the buildings were all connected, there was still confusion as to which building the visitor needed to go to and how to get there. Not only finding which garage to park in, but which level of the parking garage would lead directly to the bridge going into the hospital was an added layer. This level wasn’t the street level, it was level three.

Landmarks are the hero

Working on the wayfinding strategy, the landmarks we had on the campus map to start with were the Bowery Garage, the yellow elevators in the main building, the orange elevators further back in the main building, and the giant ball machine in the main lobby. After much discussion, the campus map was soon divided into colors. The Bowery garage became Green Parking, which connected to the green building (Considine). The green building was then connected by a bridge to the front of the main building stayed yellow to keep the familiarity of the yellow elevators, the back of the building became orange to stay true to the orange elevators that were already there also.

The main building then connected on the other side to the Kay Jewelers Pavilion that had a lot of blue in it, so naturally, that building became the blue building and it connected to what we eventually called Blue Parking. Color is one way you can help guide people to where they need to go but take into consideration that it shouldn’t be the only way due to color blindness. 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women have some sort of color blindness.

The campus map became a beautiful wayfinding strategy that led the visitor by color. Besides the color, we needed to come up with something that Akron Children’s Hospital could own, and would create a fun-filled environment that was child-like, but not childish. They needed a cohesive graphic that existed to engage the senses and intuitively guides the visitor to their destination.

Pick A Strategy: “A Hospital in an Urban Park”

Akron Children’s Hospital campus has a park right in front of the main building (yellow zone) that is flanked by what was now marked as the Green and Blue buildings. Thinking of urban parks and areas within them, each color zone became an area that you find in those places. Yellow became The Playground, Orange was coined The Forest, Green: The Meadow, and Blue, The Pond. Purple was assigned to the MOB building, which became the urban garden.

Did you know Akron Children’s Hospital is well known for highlighting their therapy dogs? Because of this reputation, it was only natural to give each zone its own dog, and they became known as the zone’s ambassador. Each ambassador had a playgroup that lived on each floor of the hospital allowing another wayfinding element to help the visitor make their way around the hospital. The playgroup and their dog ambassador became the guide along the paths and helped indicate where departments and portals were within each zone.

Add those little surprises

On a fun note, the Squirrel is the only animal in every zone. The squirrel lives on level three because this was the main level across campus. This was the level each parking garage brought you out on, that the connecting bridge for each building is on, and this is the level the main lobby is on. Having the squirrel as the 3rd-floor playmate became reinforcement to the visitor. If they saw the squirrel, they were indeed on the main level.

This Campus Strategy allows for fun environmental graphics to guide the visitors throughout each zone as well as allowing for positive distraction. Connecting back to the hospital's therapy dogs, memorable colors tie in with each zone and connect the parking garages.

The Environmental Graphics are threaded together by a continuous line that forms the playmates and dog ambassadors as it flows throughout the hospital. A child is able to follow the line throughout the hallways as it turns from a bouncing ball to a flying frisbee, birds, a sleeping cat, back to a bouncing ball that ends at a department entrance where the dog ambassador is sitting at the entrance waiting for the visitor to arrive.

The dog ambassador is not only a form of encouragement for the child but a wayfinding reinforcement that they are heading in the right direction.

Don’t forget about the budget

To consider budget constraints, the environmental graphics were built to help the visitor know where they were. The Hallways were “quiet graphics” that include just the continuous line turning into objects and playmates as they lead the way. Elevator portals are marked as “light graphic” landmarks. In these locations, storytelling vignettes let you know what floor you are on by utilizing the zone color and floor number.

Surprise graphics are even larger story vignettes that hold hidden images layered with the fun graphics and playmates so the visitors waiting can look and find all the items while they wait. Department desks are flooded with the solid color within that zone's color palette to help reinforce what building they are in as well as to highlight check-in desks as a landmark.

The Brand Within Wayfinding

The Akron Children’s Hospital brand was not forgotten in all of this concepting. The Environmental graphics and wayfinding system utilize the circle from the Akron Children’s Hospital logo throughout. Trees, floor number location signs, desk accents, all hold a circular shape and tone. Even the exterior signage monuments with the square lamp on top of them were changed to a circle lamp so it tied back into the Akron Children’s Hospital logo.

As Akron Children’s Hospital unfolds its new wayfinding and visual strategy, its visitors are finding their way around campus much easier. Staff is excited about the changes coming, and where graphics have been installed so far, the kids are easily and positively distracted as they wait to go back in to see their doctor. Currently, our design and digital teams are working with Akron Children’s to bring the graphics to life through an interactive augmented reality experience that will be used for both fun and rehabilitation purposes.

Are you looking to position your organization for growth in the next decade? Our innovative team of designers and landscape architects specialize in solving problems to elevate your audience’s experience by designing and creating loyal customers that become lifetime ambassadors.

Whether you are part of a large healthcare system, university campus, or small business we would be honored to bring our creativity and expertise to your organization and the spaces your customers live. Learn more about PLANIT Studios and schedule a free consultation click here or call (614) 505-0375.

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