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What if we had a standardized signage program for hospitals like we have for highways?

What do hospitals and horseless carriages have in common? People getting lost.

Soon after horseless carriages made their debut, drivers were getting lost because of the lack of directional signs on new roads. Most healthcare environments share similar wayfinding issues and challenges.

Many facilities have evolved through decades of expansions and modernizations. Add to that a decentralized model of providing care, and patients often find themselves navigating several facilities within a health system during the course of a single visit.

What if there were a national standard for healthcare signage like there is for highways? The benefits that would result from a nationwide, standardized and simplified sign system for healthcare are significant. Standardization would not only reduce the implementation cost and time; a standard would also improve cognition and comprehension for the public and your staff by creating a common and familiar means of communication.

Most importantly, the perceptions of the public, healthcare workers, physicians, and just about everyone, would be improved as a result of familiarity. No one would expect to find wayfinding in hospitals to be complicated and frustrating simply because it is consistent in all healthcare facilities. They would become familiar with a standardized sign system, understanding the messaging more easily and intuitively.

After all, everyone understands the meaning of these signs and symbols:

Uniform Traffic Control Devices (UTCD) for the Interstate Highway System

Once free of the need to create a new sign system for every facility, designers could focus their attention on the more critical process of determining how to navigate the facility.

I am always interested in learning how to improve the wayfinding process and I’d love your feedback! If you have any comments or questions please send me an email or give me a call.

Fun Highway Signage Facts:

  • Stop signs were initially black and white, then yellow on red. The invention of new fade-resistant material led to the adaptation of the now-iconic white-on-red stop signs in 1954.

  • In 1915, the very first stop sign appeared in Detroit. Interestingly, this was one year after the first electric traffic signal, which was erected in Cleveland. The first 3-color traffic signal appeared just 5 years later.

  • Some routine features, like yellow lines that separate traffic, are as recent as the 1970s.

  • The red, white, and blue shields used to designate interstate numbers are trademarked by the American Association of State Highway Officials. The original design for the shield was drawn by senior traffic engineer Richard Oliver of Texas and selected out of 100 entries in a national design competition in 1957.

  • The numbering system used for interstates is intended to be the mirror opposite of the US highway system, so drivers won't be confused about whether to take Highway 70 or Interstate 70. For example, I-10 runs through southern states east-west (as all major even-numbered interstates do; odd-numbered interstates run north-south), while Highway 10 runs through northern states. Because I-50 would run through the same states as Route 50, the number will never be used.

  • Stop signs are a common sight in the US. They stand out due to their octagonal shape and their bright, fire-engine red color. The reason the government picked an octagon, was that it was immediately different from the squares and rectangles used for other signs, and that an octagon was one of the cheapest shapes to make.

  • The position of the sign tells you where the exit is. Simply look at the position of the exit number on the highway information sign. If the exit number is aligned with the right, the exit will be on the right. If the exit number is aligned with the left, then it will be on the left.

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