Wayfinding for health seeking: a design-led exploration of how wayfinding employing empathetic communication design can improve the hospital outpatient experience
Short, Eden Jayne
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This project explores how a design-led approach could be used to improve health seekers’ wayfinding experiences within Auckland City Hospital. It questions how empathetic communication design may be practiced to support and empower wayfinding health seekers, using the Starship Outpatient Department as an environment for prototyping solutions. Whilst addressing physical wellness, hospitals often overlook the high levels of stress, anxiety and uncertainty that come with this particular environment. Currently within healthcare, there is an institutional shift toward providing patient-centred care, so that the patient’s voice can also be heard in the process of designing services and solutions. Within this research, a bottom-up approach to wayfinding was employed, using individual experiences of users to define the problem, therefore embracing complexity. Through this approach, the design solution is empathetic to the health seeking journey as it reflects the needs identified. Rather than investigating the environment in isolation, there was a consideration of multiple mediums of communication. These mediums prepare and support wayfinding at different stages within the journey, aiming to empower the health seeker through communicating information and as such, enabling choice and informed decision making. The vulnerabilities found within healthcare means there is a greater need for meaningful communication. This research explores how design may support the wayfinding health seeker, taking the considerably higher demands of healthcare into consideration when designing outcomes. The design outcome demonstrates the importance of cohesive and staggered information that is empathetic to the health-seeking journey, and does so via an outpatient clinic referral document, appointment letter and an environmental wayfinding prototype. Particular emphasis was placed upon the supporter role in health seeking, due to prototyping for a children’s outpatient clinic and the complexity of wayfinding tasks. To ensure that the knowledge gained from prototyping continues to be of value beyond this project, a condensed, accessible wayfinding guide for healthcare was created for both clinical and design audiences. Through building relationships and eventually collaborating with hospital stakeholders, the potential and feasibility for design-led solutions was explored. The possibilities and restrictions of prototyping wayfinding as part of a research project were evaluated, with a particular focus on the restraints of established wayfinding and ad hoc signage. Through probes, prototyping and project collaboration, the designs produced were able to respond to real problems, to test assumptions and validate the need for change in on-going wayfinding projects within Auckland City Hospital.