Wayfinding: the Importance of Assessment

Which interaction would you choose?

Scenario 1

You’re not feeling well: dizzy, a bit nauseated, a headache that keeps coming and going, occasional blurred vision. So you make an appointment with your primary care doctor. Once you sit down with him, he asks about your symptoms. You share the details, telling him you worry that this might be some form of brain cancer. He takes your word for it, schedules an MRI and refers you directly to a brain surgeon.

Scenario 2

You’re not feeling well so you make an appointment with your primary care doctor. Once you sit down with her, she asks about your symptoms. You share the details, telling her you worry that this might be some form of brain cancer. She asks a few more questions about what you’ve been doing since the symptoms began, gives you a quick but thorough exam, then tells you you’re dehydrated and prescribes Gatorade and a good nights sleep.

  • They’ve worked hard to build a Request for Proposal that details the very problem they’ve diagnosed for themselves.
  • They look for vendors who will do both the MRI and the brain surgery, choosing the vendor who can demonstrate they’ve done the same work on someone that looks just like them.
  • Or worse, mandating the work go to the lowest bidder. Or even worse, choosing the firm that built the MRI machine (e.g. a sign company) to do it all.

Physical

But what people KNOW is more important than what they SEE.

Informational

The Details

Now you might be asking, what does it cost to do this initial assessment? Of course, we can’t say for sure without understanding more about the size of your facilities and the scale of the problem, but of course this all begins with a conversation. Our initial assessment phase includes the following:

  • Virtual research: In advance of the trip, we schedule multiple opportunities to meet virtually with representatives from across the organization to understand the issues you face in terms of terminology, connectivity and the tools you use to deliver wayfinding. These cross-functional calls allow many voices to be heard and stories to be shared — safely, at a distance.
  • Three to five days on site for “boots on the ground” research:
  • Observing patient and staff behaviors, interviewing individuals to understand workarounds that they may have designed for lack of a better system.
  • Meeting with leaders across disciplines to assess the “interoperability” of the current wayfinding system, physically and informationally.
  • Talking with both staff and patients to understand what challenges they’ve faced; often this information is freely shared in the moment because we are neutral facilitators, and are there to actually solve the problems they’re sharing.
  • Designating one or two problematic routes to which we might apply new wayfinding logic and tools.
  • Scheduling meetings with internal patient advocacy groups such as Patient Family Advisory Councils.
  • Photographing the environment and building a data set for further study.
  • Final deliverables:
  • A comprehensive initial needs assessment that includes potential terminology and tools as part of an initial testing phase;
  • A photograph-driven narrative of proposed sign types to prototype along a designated route, and a process for design, specification and fabrication of the prototype test, and
  • Once prototypes are built, a process for touring the facility and receiving feedback from patients, visitors, volunteers and staff.

Summary

There is no silver bullet for wayfinding. Signage alone cannot solve the problems of unfortunate architectural decisions, and the latest digital technology is an expensive diversion if not handled as part of a systemic wayfinding strategy.

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Mark VanderKlipp

Mark VanderKlipp

Partner at Connect_CX, The Adjacency; speaker, facilitator, systems thinker, healthcare experience designer: www.connect-cx.com