Hospitals can be complex environments that are difficult to navigate—especially for families under the emotional stress of extended hospital stays. One of the ways hospitals try to mitigate that stress is to incorporate illustrative artwork into their hallways, and Seattle Children’s Hospital is no exception.
Art has long been used at Children’s to create an emotional connection with families, patients, and staff while facilitating an atmosphere of serenity and imagination. But artwork also serves a wayfinding purpose, identifying key locations, destinations, and travel paths. So when we began redesigning their wayfinding program, we knew integrated artwork would be essential, says Project Manager Cynthia Hall. “When augmented by illustrative art, our wayfinding program can be clear and concise while still creating the emotional connections with Children’s brand of warmth, compassion, and caring,” she says.
To help us achieve this, we brought on Lab Partners, a husband-and-wife team of illustrators from Oakland, California. Sarah Labieniec and Ryan Meis’ uniquely colorful and cheerful illustrations provide the emotional brand content without compromising the clarity of the wayfinding information.
We designed a wayfinding program with four Pacific Northwest-themed zones—Mountain, River, Ocean, and Forest—a natural and recognizable progression through the hospital. We worked with Lab Partners on a variety of illustrations to bring those natural environments inside. First, Sarah and Ryan created zone icons that exemplify the qualities found in each environment. We then designed four-foot illuminated discs for the icons, which appear at transition points between zones.
To further highlight each zone, Lab Partners created floor to ceiling murals with distinct and vibrant color palates that reflect the landscapes and animals found in each namesake region. “Hopefully, people will get a sense of the sound of the water bubbling at the end of a waterfall and feel some of the sunlight on the meadow floor,” says Sarah.
A wayfinding program with integrated artwork can be helpful not only to stressed parents, but also for non-English speaking families, because people will intuitively understand their passage through the hospital, says Cynthia. “The zone colors and art can be perceived peripherally, even if they don’t stop to look at the signs,” she says.
In addition to providing zone identification, the zone murals reflect Children’s brand of compassionate caring, through the pairing and interaction of animals: a bear and its cubs playing in the forest or a family of otters swimming in the ocean. These large panels create places for patients, families, and staff to pause, enjoy, and engage with the artwork, and by extension, with the wayfinding program. “There is so much creative detail in each panel—in both the foreground and the background—that passersby can experience something new each time they interact with it,” says Cynthia. “And each interaction is a moment of connection with the greater wayfinding program.”
Want to know more about the Seattle Children’s project? Check out its early stages and some more recent sign prototyping.