Kate Keating on Healthcare Design

SEGD Well: Healthcare Innovations Workshop

Kate Keating is an EGD pioneer, developer of universal wayfinding for healthcare settings, and perhaps the most experienced designer working in healthcare-specific EGD today. Learn from her insights at the SEGD Well: Healthcare Innovations Workshop March 20-21 in Cincinnati!

Keating, a University of Cincinnati-DAAP graduate in graphic design, established Kate Keating Associates (San Francisco) 25 years ago. She and her team spend 60 to 70 percent of their time on healthcare projects, creating wayfinding and EGD systems for such clients as Kaiser Permanente, Stanford University, the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford, and Sutter Health.

She spoke with us recently about the trends she sees in wayfinding and design for healthcare environments.

What trends are you seeing in healthcare today that impact visual communications in these environments?

The movement toward wellness environments has dramatically impacted healthcare design, and that includes wayfinding and EGD systems. Just as natural light, access to nature, and family-oriented patient rooms promote wellness, clear and hierarchical wayfinding systems reduce stress and anxiety and create a better environment for patients and their families.

Enlightened clients know the value of wayfinding on their complex campuses. We know that effective wayfinding empowers visitors and helps patients, promotes safety so that visitors don’t go into unsafe areas, and most important, supports the overall patient experience. A well organized, thoughtful, patient- and visitor-focused wayfinding system sends a powerful message: “This places cares about me.”

Wayfinding won’t ever replace human interaction, but we do have powerful tools to relieve stress and anxiety for people visiting these complex places.

We’re also seeing digital and location-based technologies slowly being integrated into large healthcare campuses. We’re seeing smartphone apps and devices that lead patients and visitors to their appointments using QR codes or text messaging. While the initial investment can be large, the cost savings in updates down the road is huge. The time is coming soon when these wayfinding tools will be more common in hospitals. Having said that, I think there will always be a place for static signage systems.

What about branding in healthcare environments?

Total branding of the patient experience is also a trend we’re seeing. Hospitals are competing against each other for the market, and they understand it all comes back to the patient experience: What kind of care will I get? The design of physical facilities sends a big message, and providing effective wayfinding is a big part of the experience. Branding is not just about slapping logos on all the signs. A brand is a promise, and everything you do either keeps that promise or doesn’t.

Tell us a little about your presentation at the upcoming SEGD Well: Healthcare Innovations Workshop.

As designers, we often get hired to develop wayfinding for a new facility being added on to an existing one. The architectural team is limited to project boundaries, but wayfinding is not; we need to connect patients and families not only with the new facility, but also with the campus as a whole. When you’re a new patient, the “new tower” means nothing to you. You just need to get where you’re going.

We believe three major factors get overlooked in many wayfinding projects: physical, social, and function.

Many wayfinding systems fail because they’re done piece-meal. For physical factors, we consider: How many vehicular points of entry are there into the new facility? How many entry points are there into the building? What are the horizontal and vertical circulation points? 

With so many healthcare facilities built up over time, we have to educate the staff that “old building” and “new building” distinctions may mean something to them, but not to visitors.

Social factors are also important. What is the emotional state of the visitors to this facility likely to be? What is the demographic of the people using the facility? What are the stakeholders’ priorities?

And there are important functional factors as well: What difficult paths of travel must visitors navigate to get there? Have they received any information before arriving on the campus? How do they know where to park? Is there any construction going on that will impede them? Once they arrive, will they understand the nomenclature?

We think all of these factors are critical to developing a good wayfinding system, and I’ll summarize 7 major building blocks for any healthcare wayfinding system.

You touched on nomenclature. What is that and what are the challenges there?

We see this as another big trend affecting healthcare environments. Nomenclature refers to the names used to label certain destinations. Sophisticated clients are recognizing that clinical nomenclature often doesn’t work for patients. Why call something Otolaryngology when patients don’t know what that is? Why not just call things what they are?

We’re doing a huge research project now with a major university hospital on this very topic. In a top-notch research facility devoted to medical specialties, we’re finding that using layman’s terms versus clinical terms is much more effective. Hospitals need to talk to their patients, not to themselves.

Photos: Courtesy Kate Keating Associates

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