Interior Design and Graphics in Hospitals
One important objective behind the massive marketing, public relations and promotional exercise that any hospital undertakes is to create and project a good image of the hospital. The public standing of a hospital…its degree of acceptance in the community…is derived from the total of all the impressions it gives to the various persons who come into contact with it. In point of fact, everything in a hospital, even the seemingly small and inconsequential things, projects a good, not so good, or bad image of the hospital to the outside world.
Take, for instance, the correspondence that goes out of the executive's office. It forms a strong subliminal impression about how he runs his business or the organization. It is also one of the most frequent opportunities he has for presenting himself to the outside world or the business community. The author strongly believed and conscientiously practiced the rule that every written communication leaving his office should be attractive (pleasing to the eye), neat and accurate. People judge an office, the staff and the organization from how the office presents and what goes out of it.
Think of a sloppy, careless and poorly worded communication or a cold and impersonal letter typed or printed on cheap stationery with spelling and grammar mistakes going out from the office of the executive. Alternatively, think back to the time when you received a letter, a medical reimbursement certificate, or a cheque in which your name has been wrongly spelt and the feeling of outrage you felt. The image such communications projects to the recipient and the outside word will take a long time, if not for ever, to erase. Although one inefficient or careless individual may have been entirely responsible for the mistake, chances are that it is the company that has suffered loss of its public image. The same is true about many other aspects of the hospital.
The printed matter is part of certain internal functions. The hospital's interior designer should be as concerned with it as the designer in a five-star hotel is with napkins, menus, wine lists, etc or the designer of a large departmental store is with shopping bags, advertising posters and signs. All these serve the same purpose – projecting a good image of the organization. Corporate image does not sound like a term that applies to design and construction, much less to hospitals. All the same, it is an area in which today's hospital public relations and promotional staff are becoming increasingly concerned with even in small hospitals.
LOOKS ARE IMPORTANT
It makes good business sense too. In order to succeed in this highly competitive world, most businesses focus their attention, among other things, on how their business “looks.” They believe it is worth the time, effort and money spent on choosing furniture, selecting stationery, or packaging a product to make it attractive to their customers or clients. These things are recognized as important and worth the investment in terms of rupee value.
Businesses realise that the first thing that ever is sold is the salesperson. Product always comes next. It is, therefore, not surprising to see to what lengths businesses go in order to “package” themselves, their front office staff and “sales personnel” attractively. One important aspect of an organization’s business look is how its employees dress…“business or professional dressing” as it is called. In the hospital set-up, cleanliness is a vital element in providing high quality medical care. In addition, neatly dressed employees in fresh, neat uniforms not only lend a therapeutic and aesthetic touch but also do much to market the hospital.
Of the many big and small things and activities that go to build or enhance a hospital's public image, the one that is very relevant to our topic of interior design is graphic or visual art. Graphic design is the applied art of arranging image and text to communicate a message. The image of the hospital that patients and visitors carry with them out of the hospital depends, among other things, on the hospital graphics. Signs, symbols, directories, and room identification play an important visual part. Good architectural graphics have assumed great significance in the context of increasing size and complexity of our modern structures. Take, for instance, a large airport building, which depends on clear and attractive graphic displays to make the spaces work. Any one can follow the signs and reach his or her destination. Finding rooms on large hotel floors is made easy by room numbers and effective signs. (For example, Rooms 315 – 325 >>>). So also, the floor numbers right in front as one gets off the elevator. Then, hospital is a more complex and bewildering place especially to those who are sick in body and mind.
Two types of graphics are of importance to the designer. They are the directional graphics or the signage system, and the printed matter including hospital logo.
A mass of information must be transmitted visually to patients, visitors and personnel so that time and motion are not wasted. A signing programmed produces these directional signs both inside and outside the hospital.
Hospitals with their maze of corridors and departments can be an intimidating place for both patients and visitors even at the best of times. In addition, what is worse, people who come to the hospital are already under stress, not to mention the hurry. Most of them are preoccupied and some disorientated. Their relatives are distraught. Their woes start when they enter the premises and look for parking place which in most of our hospitals is at a premium if not non-existent. At this time, the last thing they want to worry about is finding a parking place or their destination. They need to know the quickest and the easiest way to navigate into, through and out of the facility. This is what hospital way-finding system is all about.
Largely, hospital way finding system often confuses people. The system is generally devoid of graphics and is written in physicians' language. Some examples: ophthalmology, diagnostic radiology, oncology, dermatology, etc. Hospital administrators often think that a way finding system is just a matter of putting up signs.
They do not realise that working out an effective signage system is an art; it takes concerted effort to select appropriate terminology, which is supplemented by visual symbols, maps and directory of floors and rooms. The system should also produce a consistent lettering – style, appearance and size of letters. Letter style and size are outlined with the design, placement and colour code of the entire hospital. Michael Saunders, an expert and partner of Healthcare Design Consultants, describes how he completely overhauled a hospital's signage concept to provide a greater level of clarity and aesthetic quality, while projecting a strong corporate identity for the trust.
Hospital's way finding is an integrated system of signs, building design elements, visual clues and information to guide patients, visitors and employees to their desired destinations. Said Vanderbilt University Medical Center about a new comprehensive way-finding system that they are about to install: “It is designed from the visitors' perspective, to anticipate when and where visitors will ask, “Where do I go? Where do I find . . . ” and to answer those questions in a format and in a location that would make sense to someone coming to our campus for the first time.” Hospital administrators will do well to take a leaf out of Vanderbilt's book.
Some of our older hospitals with their labyrinth of winding passages are complex and unwieldy buildings in which even staff have difficulty in finding their way around, let alone help outsiders to navigate through them. In large facilities, services are often provided in several different buildings. Think of the times when patients or visitors asked you for directions. You probably tried hard to give correct information only to find yourself saying in the end, “Come with me. It's easier for me to show you that department than to tell you how to reach there.”
Apart from directional signs, there are other important signs such as safety signs that a hospital should be concerned. These are signs relating to fire emergency, smoking, safety at work place in general and in certain critical areas like the nursing floor, laboratory, kitchen and laundry in particular, and safety in places where oxygen is in use or anesthesia is administered. There is a long list of hospital safety rules. Many of these are warning signs. Although every possible measure may have been taken to make the hospital building as safe as possible, no place can be completely free from hazards. Against this backdrop, it is incumbent on the hospital to educate and warn patients, employees and visitors about the dangers lurking in the hospital environment. Regrettably, not many hospitals pay serious attention to safety measures, let alone placing warning signs. Ideally, hospitals and every department should have written safety rules.
Of all the safety measures in the hospital, safety against fire is of the utmost importance. Nowhere else is such a large number of helpless people concentrated in one place as in a hospital so utterly dependent on other people for their safety. Since the best form of protection from fire is prevention, warning signs are essential. One often wonders why this aspect of safety is accorded such a low priority in the hospital set-up unlike in hotels, which exhibit safety signs even inside the patrons' rooms. There are, of course, other equally important signs.