Some musings about getting lost, finding my way and wayfinding design…


I have a terrible sense of direction. What I mean is: it’s impossible to overstate how easy it is for me to get lost. I mean this in a literal sense. Without a GPS or very, very clear directions, I can lose my way to even the simplest of places, even if I’ve been there before. My mother is the same way and I either inherited it or learned it from her, I’m convinced.

One of the places I get most lost is in hospitals and my job requires me to go to a lot of different hospitals. I used to try and plan to park near the entrance that would get me closest to the parishioner I was visiting. Now, I don’t bother. I know I’m going to be spending time endlessly wandering around the halls, asking for someone to point me to the right room and then asking someone again 50 feet later. If I have to come back for a follow up visit, I have to ask again, because I don’t easily remember which way I went.

A friend once explained to me that wayfinding design is an actual thing. In other words, the system finding your way in a place like a hospital, or a stadium, or an airport or some other complex place isn’t just thrown together, someone thought about it and used clearly researched principles to help you find your way. If they did their job well, you don’t get lost.

I don’t know a lot about these principles for wayfinding design, though I am intrigued when I read about them   but I do know this: many hospitals contract wayfinding designers that aren’t very good. I know this not because I know a whole lot about design, but because I get lost there and so I know the system is bad. One could argue that I’m the exception to the rule and that because most people find their way, it’s a good system. I’m just a “lose your way” kind of girl and there’s no hope. Except that shouldn’t be true. Designers should care most about people like me because people that are good with directions can find their way without their system, just give ’em some kind of map. (The word makes me shudder. I can’t read them. Really.)  If a system is really good, it should be good for someone with a terrible sense of direction.

Thus brings me to the exciting point of this post. For the past few days I’ve been at Edward Hospital in Naperville with my mama who has had knee replacement surgery. And I haven’t gotten lost one time. Not on my way to the waiting room when we were waiting for the surgery, not to the hospital, not to the multiple parking garages when I’ve had to go there to get the cars, not when I’ve gone to the cafeteria, you get the picture. In an ordinary hospital experience, I would have gotten lost many times by now, and here, not once. I know this may be exceptionally boring and not noteworthy to many people, but to me it’s huge. I am 100% serious when I say that I want to find out which design company did the wayfinding for Edward Hospital and thank them. I think designers should hire me as a test case for their systems. If I can find my way, the system passes. This one would pass. Here are the things that I think work for this system. (Pictures above.)

1. There are ceiling flags that don’t show you just one time if you’re going the right way, they repeatedly show you. If I start to go down the hall that is not the right one, I turn around half way down the hall instead of having to get to the end (or worse, make a constant wrong turn). In other words, I’m constantly being reminded (this way, go this way, this is the way, yes, this is the way.)  As a side note, I found my way through one hospital by learning that the wing I wanted was near Starbucks and so I should just follow the one sign to Starbucks that was posted constantly to remind me. Same concept.

2. There are different colors and shapes on the flags for various places, so they look very different in more than one way. Surgery was an orange X. The North Wing is a blue N, the South Wing is a hot pink S. In other hospitals they’re all numbers in circles that look very similar and I get confused. (Was I going to 1S or 1N? Things like south and north literally mean nothing to me, and most of the time there is no other color or identifier to help me know which is which.)

3. There are GIANT symbols on end walls so I don’t have to walk all the way to the end to know if I’m at the right hallway or the wrong hallway.

Can anyone help me find the wayfinding designer for Edward Hospital? Anybody have influence in hospital wayfinding design and want me to test out your system? I’m dead serious.



Share Our Content

Stay Connected

More Articles of Interest

Prayer Candle Craft and Activity

This simple prayer candle idea is one I got from my friend Laura Alary. She taught it to me when discussing her new book Breathe: A