Wayfinding for Children’s Hopsital in East Tennessee
I was recently listening to a popular weekly podcast called “This American Life”. The topic being covered was “How to Talk to Kids”. This is a challenge we all can probably all appreciate in some way, and personally I can say that having been a parent now for 22 years, I’m still learning how!
INNERFACE works with a lot of hospitals and healthcare facilities, each facility will have patients from a variety of circumstances, but, all of these organizations exist for one primary reason: to help and care for others. We take pride in the opportunity to be part of that effort, and believe our participation makes a relatively small but significant difference for patients and their loved ones.
Hospitals can be scary places. They’re scary because, among other things, patients and visitors are no longer in control. They entrust their health and well-being, or that of a loved one, to unfamiliar people and places. They surrender a lot of self-control and are frequently powerless in many ways, so the care they receive needs to be based on a sense of trust. This is a trust of both the intent and the ability of the care facility, and those who work there, to promote healing.
As scary as hospitals can be for adults, the fear that children must feel in a hospital is potentially much deeper and more dramatic. The unfamiliarity that adults feel in a hospital is multiplied by the necessary separation that children experience from those who normally care for them. They not only are away from their familiar routines, they’re frequently away from the people who usually nurture and ensure their comfort.
But kids are no fools. One thing I’ve learned about children is that it’s really easy to underestimate them, to lose sight of their abundant intelligence and insight. They are not unaware, in fact, they’re frequently more aware of their circumstances than many adults. And in a healthcare environment, it’s important to acknowledge and encourage their awareness.
INNERFACE has completed a signage and wayfinding project for Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis, TN. As a part of the design and development process, we had open discussions about the care process and culture. These conversations brought out ideas that reflected the common beliefs and values among staff and physicians. Patient empowerment was one of the common threads, and the consensus was strong: children need to know that they can trust their care, and in part, that means trusting their surroundings. Turning the hospital into a circus would give them the wrong message, kids know the difference. Artwork was chosen to support this; the emphasis is on craft and materials that the children themselves had chosen.
Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital reached out to local artists in the process of this wayfinding mission. The community got involved to a degree that was unparalleled. It was all about the region, and the vision of a healing environment.
These efforts meant making a complex environment easier to understand, for both children and adults, and that is part of the right message. The wayfinding program at Le Bonheur Children’s pays attention to clarity and simplicity, and has consistent, clear messages throughout. There are no clowns, circus tents, or purposeless ornaments in the program- it supports and reflects the aesthetic and architectural context of the hospital. We’re proud of what we’ve done for the hospital, and look forward to being a part of its evolution over the next several years.