Signs are not wayfinding.

Wayfinding is a popular buzz term often used to talk about signage, but wayfinding is more than just signage. Wayfinding is the art of using landmarks, signage, pathways, and environmental cues to help first-time visitors navigate and experience a site without confusion. These cues should be well planned, seamlessly connected and aesthetically pleasing so visitors have a positive first impression highlighted by a sense of security, comfort and well-being.

Signs are usually the first answer to every wayfinding problem, but they are rarely the only solution, and should not be viewed as a panacea. Posting more information (i.e. more signs) is often unnecessary, confusing and counter intuitive.

Without a complete understanding of the problem and clear consideration of the users, the hope of implementing a successful wayfinding solution is not possible.

Signs aren’t sexy, and there are always new systems and technologies, new equipment that is more critical to assuring the successful delivery of healthcare. It is not unusual to see donor names on clinics and buildings, but I have yet to see a large donation for a wayfinding program. The problem is, if done well, and the wayfinding program is truly successful, most people will be completely unaware that a wayfinding program was implemented: they will move intuitively and confidently through your campus, knowing exactly how to reach their destination.

In the healthcare environment, 30% of first time visitors to a hospital get lost. The impact on staff distracted by assisting these visitors and the negative experience for patients translates to significant costs. For an average sized tertiary hospital, ROI is approximately $220,000 annually, (Zimring 1990). Adjusted for inflation, that number would be slightly over $400,000 today.

Ironically, the design and implementation of an integrated wayfinding system for that same hospital should not be significantly more than the annual lost revenue, and you would start to see the return on your investment, immediately.