A wayfinding system for a pediatric hospital that improves the patient environment and provide navigational functionality.
Animal Friendships Improving the Pediatric Hospital Navigation Experience
Hospitals are often a blank and sterile environment that exudes stress and uncertainty. In fact, I know of this first hand I because I used to wait within one just for the start of school across the street from it. Even as a young visitor, I was noticeably uncomfortable each time I waited there. A place of healing felt more like a complex prison labyrinth. Very opposite of the warm invitation that is often presented from such places. Inspired by these experiences, this project became an opportunity to create a solution to the dreary environmental and navigational issue that plagues hospitals.
This project developed into a system of illustration-based signage based on real-life animal relationships to address the dull corridors of hospitals.
The Hospital Experience & Pediatrics
Several factors contribute to the current state to of American hospitals: most were built in the last 50 to 100 years, regulated compliance to meet safety standards, and top priority to providing medical care over all other patient needs. The result of these factors creates a sterile, mechanical environment that discourages comforting the user.
With many types of hospital within the country afflicted by poor design, the pediatric hospital became the ideal hospital of choice for this solution. Aside from caring for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged of us, pediatric hospitals are responsible for over 95% of tertiary care and 75% of terminal disease research. They are places in which significant breakthroughs are made and are pivotal to the furthering of standard medical care practices.
Although patients are the center of healthcare, the importance of design on the well being of patients, visitors, and staff contributes to a better hospital. Patients on average heal faster in a medical environment that feels more comforting. Visitors and patients alike are more likely to return to use a hospital’s services if its well-designed. Staff are more less likely to feel burn out from less environmental stress.
Considerations, Insights, & Themes
Early on, a consideration for the visual style of illustrations for the signs had to be made. There are three main users in a pediatric hospital: the young patients, visitors, and staff. Each have distinct visual tastes that would be foolish to address all at once. A more universal illustration style had to be used to appeal all three. A style comfortably between being abstract or realistic had to be used. The result became a vector-like style with an emphasis on forms and shapes using textures to add visual interest and slight dimension. It was also decided to not use meta depictions of medical equipment or clothing was excluded as it could break the focus and be discouraging to some.
As for the theme of the signage, it didn’t occur to me to use one until much later into the thumbnail stage. At this point I was generating more generic themes of fantastical elements of mythical beasts or dream-like depictions to use. This meant that the theme would be inclusive, but as a result would be based on things not found in this world may not hold any significance to the non-imaginative and risk alienating others due to unfamiliarity.
Instead, a theme based on reality had to be used to make it grounded and familiar. This idea eventually became the theme exploring friendships using real life animal relationships found in nature.
Composing a Sign
Designing around a five-floor pediatric hospital, each floor has one unique pair of animal friends: elephant and egret, cheetah and dog, ostrich and zebra, badger and coyote, crocodile and plover.
Each pair is uniquely colored to add more life and vibrancy against the white walls of the hospital. In addition, it helps enforce which floor of the hospital an individual may be on so they can continue making confident choices in their navigation. To add more life to these relationships each pair is always depicted interacting together doing something different.
Two sign types are used this system: small signs and large murals. When introduced to a new area or a hallway junction small signs are used. These signs offer snippets of a story to accompany the sign highlighting what may be happening between the two animal friends. To maintain consistency, each sign makes use of a grid system.
Larger spaces like elevator hubs, long corridors, or patient rooms use mural signs to a landmark in the space. Mural backgrounds use depictions of each environment from the animal's natural ecology and add contrast to their color schemes.
The Experience of the Journey
From the first floor to the fourth floor, each sign presented along the way are possible points along the journey of a first-time visitor or patient on their way to their room. Along the way they’ll encounter the adventures of the elephant and egret, the compassion of the dog for his cheetah friend, or the wandering travel buddies of the badger and coyote. By the time this user has walked through the halls they should be at calm and at east with what they saw.
When they are finally brought to their room they are greeted by a vibrant mural to remind them of the journey. And when the lights dim in the room the mural lights up with the animal friends to keep them company.