Step into any hospital and you’re likely to notice the constant bustle of people with places to go and people to see. Some easily find their way because they’ve previously visited the facility,  while others are stepping through the front door for the first time (or maybe even for their second or third visit) and may be lost, confused, or frantically seeking some direction or guidance to get to their appointment or destination.

Creating a wayfinding strategy alongside the architectural and interior design will not only provide a sense of visual coherence, but also help eliminate confusion and guide a person throughout their journey at a healthcare facility. The keys to delivering a successful program include a multidisciplinary approach, flexibility in design, and a clear connection to an organization’s overall branding.

  1. Using a multidisciplinary approach. A wayfinding strategy goes beyond traditional signage techniques and is most effective when utilizing an environmental graphic system, which can include any combination of consistent typography, symbols, custom illustrations, and color schemes. A multidisciplinary approach, where the wayfinding graphics are designed alongside the interiors and architecture, allows designers to capitalize on opportunities for visual cues through architectural language, varying light levels, strategic use of pattern, and material changes to draw attention to points of information and key destinations like departmental entrances, main corridors, café locations, or elevator lobbies.

One example is the new Rainbow Babies & Children Hospitals (RB&C) multispecialty clinic in Cleveland, Ohio (architect: Perspectus Architecture). Here, the design team created a large-scale custom illustration for the waiting area (Agnes Studio), which represents the local Cleveland Metroparks, an extensive system of nature preserves in greater Cleveland. Patients and families coming back for repeated visits can discover something new on the graphics each time through these features—almost like a “Where’s Waldo”-type theme that enables children to make a game out of finding a new animal, such as the tiny frog in the pond or a bee flying high in the sky.

To support the graphic, the project team infused the interior and architecture with elements from the illustration through floor patterns, architectural forms, and signage. For example, the interior design of the lobby features a woodland setting through the use of tree forms as column enclosures and a river rock floor pattern. These interior elements continue down the corridors and highlight each specialty area within the clinic, helping to identify key points of information and eliminate the need for multiple signs pointing in different directions.

  1. Flexibility in design. As any healthcare environment is ever-changing due to renovations, additions, and rebranding, it’s important to develop a wayfinding system that’s easily adjustable, interchangeable, and expandable. For example, the RB&C Multispecialty Clinic features nine different subspecialties, each with its own block of exam rooms that is identified with different colored circles painted on the wall next to 3-D tree panels. If or when another subspecialty joins the clinic, or if an existing ones needs to expand or relocate, the circles can be painted a different color to “redraw” the departmental bounds—an easy, inexpensive modification that causes no disruption to the clinic and allows for quick adaptations to changing needs.


  1. Creating a clear connection to overall branding. Finally, having a clear and concise design vocabulary throughout a healthcare building can greatly enhance the effectiveness of an organization’s brand. For example, it’s important to utilize the same visual language in a building that’s seen in marketing materials, on a website, or even a commercial. If an organization’s website feels light and airy, that same feeling should be reflected in its built environments to avoid creating confusion or a sense of uneasiness.

Taking the time to consider how you want people to feel as they experience a space, the message you want to send, and what problems you’re trying to solve and how a new project can support current objectives is a good starting point to developing a wayfinding strategy. Within the highly competitive field of healthcare, cultivating brand loyalty by leveraging the built environment is crucial to ensuring a positive experience for all.


Jen Minotas is the founder and creative director at Detail Design Studio (Willoughby, Ohio). She can be reached at