Wayfinding Design: An Investigation into Wayfinding Design Techniques Employed in Healthcare Facilities in Northern Ireland and the Need for Wayfinding Standards
Catriona Slane,
Ulster University

Wayfinding is the process of determining location and orientation and then planning and following a route to the desired destination. As one of the first to discuss wayfinding, Passini (1980) describes it as a problem-solving method which allows dynamic navigation to a chosen location. Wayfinding is supported through various different methods such as lighting, architectural indicators, directional and informational signage or you are here (YAH) maps. Good wayfinding systems should provide strong definitive signals enabling the user to ascertain their location and navigate towards their destination across individual decision points. Poor wayfinding arises when the user cannot make an informed decision as a result of flawed wayfinding cues. This leads to user frustration and failure of the wayfinding system leaving some unable to locate their destination.

While successful wayfinding design can diminish stress, an inadequate system can escalate an individual’s levels of anxiety while simultaneously creating further costs for the hospital. Wayfinding and the employment of appropriate wayfinding techniques can be often overlooked as a key feature of a design and more than often it is not until the operational period of a design begins that poor wayfinding is highlighted by building users. For a healthcare facility to meet its desired purpose and function successfully, internal navigation systems should be efficient and accurate.

Through a case study methodology this research project evaluates the current wayfinding schemes implemented within healthcare facilities in Northern Ireland and assesses how well they perform. Two local hospital facilities were selected, one being a relatively new complex opened in 2017, and one which has been operational for over 50 years. Observational site surveys and audits were performed using survey tools presented in the NHS guidance document. The ‘site survey’ tool and ‘auditing your site checklist’ were both utilised with the expectation that any research accumulated will have been done so according to the best current practice standards.

Applying the ‘site survey’ tool, routes to multiple destinations within both facilities were appraised and decision points noted. External site aspects were addressed using the ‘auditing your site checklist’ with the subsequent survey findings forming the foundation for the following case studies. The case studies provided a comprehensive insight to the wayfinding in place at both hospitals, and when analysed against the best current practice guidelines available, numerous problematic issues and inconsistencies were uncovered. Contrary to what was expected at the beginning of this research project, the wayfinding in place at the newer facility was not in any way superior to the older facility. In fact, the longer operational hospital seemed to have realised the wayfinding failures and implemented temporary and self-made signage to overcome the system’s shortfalls.

Although the wayfinding systems in place at both hospitals display considerable potential, the discrepancies found raise the issue that only sub-par guidance is available and that without any enforced standard there is much divergence from current best practice methods. The research concludes by proposing the notion of a standard set framework for Wayfinding. A solution that could be a collaboration by a range of relevant parties; and managed and enforced by a regulatory body such as the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RIQA). Such a standard would allow for more robust wayfinding design in hospital settings and could facilitate the creation of a more in depth and detailed guidance document.


Judges’ comments

The findings of the study exposed the numerous inconsistencies and shortfalls in hospital environments and highlighted the confusion caused to the various user groups and the stress and wellbeing of the occupants. The report further highlighted the need for a robust standards framework to ensure consistent way finding systems are designed for the benefit of all users in healthcare provision. This is an important study in the field of Architectural Technology as inclusive design is identified as a key area within Architectural Technology education  and practice standards.