innovative wayfinding solutions

3 Innovative Wayfinding Solutions for Expanding Healthcare Facilities

Published on: June 13, 2019

Healthcare facilities are always looking to improve the overall patient experience. Expansion and renovation work is the perfect time to implement long-deferred changes to wayfinding and signage. If you’re already adding a new campus, buildings, or undergoing a tenant improvement project, you’ll need to design and implement new environmental graphics and signage. Why not make sure that the entire system has a cohesive and user-friendly wayfinding design while you’re at it?

As San Diego, Roseville, and other California communities prep for major healthcare facility expansions in the coming years, there’s more opportunity than ever to discover innovative wayfinding solutions that directly support the patient experience. The following examples show how creating a wayfinding master plan can help solve three of the most common wayfinding challenges in expanding healthcare facilities.

How Innovative Wayfinding Solutions Improve Visitor Experiences

Healthcare facilities are notorious for being complicated labyrinths that are challenging to navigate. This complex physical environment is often times a function of growth pressures and space constraints that have created an ad hoc approach to expansion. Lack of resources to engage in a strategic wayfinding master planning effort results in decisions that prioritize the addition and expansion of new services but compromise the patient wayfinding experience.

The experience at campus entries, parking areas, building entries, lobbies, elevators, corridors and department entrances can often be disconnected and unintuitive, leaving visitors confused, lost, and frustrated. While altering the architectural design of existing hospitals may not be feasible, patient experiences can be improved by taking a new approach to architectural signage and wayfinding.

Simplifying a Complicated Environment

When the UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center faced some of the same challenges that are common to hospitals across the nation, they chose to revive their wayfinding strategy. Their campus is complex, made up of five separate buildings with 4 different elevator lobbies that are connected by a circuitous corridor. Visitors struggled to keep the unintuitive names of buildings and floors straight, much less find an elevator that accessed the floor they needed. The existing signage program proved ineffective at solving their confusion.

The Solution:

UCLA hired an environmental graphics and signage consultant to create a high-level strategic and visionary framework for wayfinding in the facility. This master plan identified the root cause of each of their main challenges and proposed effective solutions, including renaming buildings, practicing progressive disclosure, and redesigning signs for improved readability. By following a few wayfinding best practices, the medical center became far more accessible to its vast community of visitors.    

Expanding on a One-Time Renovation

Renovation is often the impetus for a revised wayfinding program. In the case of the San Mateo Medical Center (SMMC), this process began with a project to renovate their administration building and main entrance. Their initial aim was to create a visitor arrival experience that was more welcoming and modern, and for their non-clinical spaces to have a fresh feel. However, once that project began, the SMMC realized that signage throughout all of their buildings could use an upgrade.

The Solution:

The SMMC chose to take a more ambitious approach to wayfinding with their renovation project. Through designing a new signage program that matched their entrance aesthetic, the center ensured a consistent brand experience throughout all of their buildings. Signage became an integral part of their design for the built environment. Now, visitors feel a warm welcome that extends outward from the moment they enter the lobby and continues throughout their treatment journey.  

Making Space For Multilingual Signage

Healthcare facilities carry the dual burdens of accessibility and inclusivity, more so than perhaps any other type of commercial development. They treat patients of all ages, cultures, and languages. Creating a positive experience for as many as possible is a principle concern. Traditional navigation signs directing patients to “The Otolaryngology Department” can be alienating—particularly when the patient community happens to be multilingual. As facilities and treatment populations grow, hospitals need to reach more people with strategies that are inherently sensitive to diversity and inclusion.  

 innovative wayfinding solutions

The Ravenswood Family Health Center is a community clinic that faces this challenge every day. The clinic was founded to provide preventative care for underserved populations and sees a high percentage of Limited English Proficiency patients. Their unique community is made up of patients who speak Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Tongan, and several Latin American indigenous dialects. Ravenswood needed a signage program that catered to a high level of linguistic diversity to help more people to feel welcome and at ease in their built environment.

The Solution:

Ravenswood partnered with a signage design firm to develop multilingual and culturally-competent signage for their facility. They implemented a wayfinding program that replaces tricky medical terms with universal iconography and incorporates multiple languages on each sign element. Now each visitor can navigate to their appointments with greater ease. Even better, the Ravenswood Family Health Center gained a reputation for welcoming diverse populations—which continues to help fuel its mission of outreach and service.

Finding Your Own Innovative Wayfinding Solutions

Every hospital and patient community is unique. But one common solution—improved wayfinding—can serve a wide variety of purposes for facilities who face different challenges and are striving to meet particular goals. Whether you’re running a small county clinic or a regional hospital complex, consider the impact that signage has on your patient’s experiences. By implementing innovative wayfinding solutions, you can significantly increase patient satisfaction and invest in a facility improvement that will really make a difference.

If your facility plans to expand in the near future, consider partnering with a wayfinding design firm who has the experience to provide innovating wayfinding solutions for your particular healthcare community. As your facility grows and signage needs change, tools like a wayfinding master plan and a set of sign standards can keep pace with the needs of your community.


GNU Group is a signage design firm with particular expertise in complex healthcare environments. We meet the challenges of growing healthcare facilities head-on by creating unique wayfinding master plans and implementing signage programs that last. To discover your own innovative wayfinding solutions, connect with our team today.