How To Do Wayfinding Design For Stress-Filled Environments, In Stress-Filled Times

The big architectural and experiential design firm NBBJ has developed an interesting paper that looks at signage as an important means of de-stressing visits to medical centers by people who are worried they’ve picked up COVID-19.

“Studies show high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, can decrease memory and critical thinking skills,” says a team from NBBJ, on its blog. “Even during normal circumstances, 30 percent of hospital visitors find it difficult to get to the right place because they get lost. Today, some people with coronavirus symptoms, many severely ill or under duress, enter the hospital without alerting staff before they are triaged, potentially exposing others unnecessarily to the illness and requiring staff to then isolate them, triage them and disinfect any spaces that may be contaminated.”

The piece continues …

Given this urgency, it’s critical to employ a consistent wayfinding system for COVID-19 (PDF) to help direct patients to the right place. The good news is hospitals can quickly improve the patient experience now with a comprehensive set of environmental graphics that address a visitor’s spectrum of interactions — from pre-arrival to discharge — with unified elements such as simple shapes, unique colors and a list of COVID-19 symptoms. Here are a few items to consider when creating signage for the crisis.

Graphic design and content recommendations

Keep signage simple to decrease anxiety. Graphic design treatments such as using the color pink, which is unique from typical hospital signage colors, can help important messages pop. Recognizable shapes like circles or squares are both noticeable and simple. Much like retail stores, such as Ikea with its clear, visible and instantly recognizable signage, hospital wayfinding that relies on repetition, standardization and familiar shapes can help people quickly orient themselves and lead them through a space in an intuitive way.

Reduce text to only the essentials so directions are easy to digest. Outline primary symptoms of the coronavirus to help visitors differentiate between other illnesses like the flu. For example: “Follow the pink circles if you have COVID-19 symptoms such as a dry cough, fever and shortness of breath.” Signs for non-COVID medical conditions could include language such as: “Follow the green square for non-viral treatment or care.”

Consistent visuals and content should be carried through all steps of a hospital visitor’s journey, from pre-visit information online to outdoor signage at arrival, to indoor navigation once visitors are through the hospital entrance. It is key for hospitals to utilize a wayfinding system that is easy for patients and healthcare staff to understand and follows a unified theme.

Anyone designing for large public facilities – both content and the use and positioning of displays – would likely glean some valuable insights from a company that spends its days thinking about both physical design and experience. 

While this is focused on hospitals, and a specific, scary circumstance, there are broader insights here about minimalist design and color choices that could apply, really, to most circumstances involving wayfinding and general, instructional messaging.

Worth a read.