A masterplan to get you from here to there.

One of the most critical (yet overlooked) ways to prepare for a new space.


Person holding a big idea

Suppose you have a new structure in the works. Or you're reimagining an existing one. Either way, you have a vision for a space. Fresh. Smart. On brand. But before the blueprints, before the scaffolding, before the drywall and paint, there's one thing every organization should do to prepare for a new build or a remodel: a wayfinding masterplan.

The Center for Health Design, from whom Takeform received its Evidence-Based Design Accreditation and Certification (EDAC), says this masterplan document should outline the goals and objectives for the project over the long-term.

According to EDAC, the role of the masterplan grows in importance "as the project progresses to ensure that the design developed is in alignment with the [original] vision and the integrity of the design is maintained through the entire project lifecycle." ("EDAC Study Guide Series" Concord, CA: Center for Health Design, 2010. Print.)

Duane Fisher, Director of Wayfinding at Takeform, expands on that important point. “Sometimes, you might be in the midst of a project, but you're not thinking about how people are going to move around through the new layout. It happens to hospitals, airports, colleges, and many other spaces," Duane says. “People don't stop to consider, 'If we move all these people over here, we're going to have a logjam over there.'"

We all get around differently.

There've been a lot of studies on wayfinding, but people process wayfinding in different ways.

Global mapper

Big Picture Blair.

Some people are more global and prefer maps. They want to know where they are in the space. For spatial mappers, its more about the directory, the signs, and the maps—but when you're stressed out, you tend to go to a person, so it's important for staff to be well trained and have a system so that every staffer says the same thing.

Breadcrumb follower

Single Frame Frank.

Others tend to be more bread crumb followers. It doesn't matter where they are in the space, they think about going from point A to point B. For bread crumb followers, graphics and artwork are very important.

Which is why a wayfinding masterplan needs to consider all people, obstacles, and outcomes involved—supported by research. And why the Center for Health Design urges planning for the future. When you don't think ahead, there's an expiration date on your work. Here are a few considerations that can help you avoid the risk:


1. Okay, first let's clear up a common misconception.

When some folks hear “wayfinding," the first thing they think of is signs. A wayfinding masterplan is more than that. It studies the different journeys people take throughout your space. It considers the use of rooms and the corridors and elevators that connect them.

“It's as much about helping you figure out how to use your space better as it is to help people find their way," Duane says. “Sure, we analyze where people are going, and how to help them get from one place to another. But part of it is asking what's happening in the future? Are you adding new structures? How will they be used?"

People find their way

2. A masterplan ensures staff give good directions.

A masterplan can help you make sure all your wayfinding decisions are focused on visitors—and on staff training. “Signage isn't for employees," says Susan Bennett, Project Manager at Takeform. “It's for people who are coming here for the first or second time and may only ever be here once or twice."

A good masterplan must include training employees. Otherwise, staff will often make up their own (terrible) directions. “They'll make up their own maps. Send people through the wrong corridors," Duane says. They might also choose certain—um, landmarks—that you don't want to call attention to. “Imagine a staffer telling a visitor to 'Turn left by the stain on the carpet,' " Duane says. (Ouch.)

It's true for both existing spaces and new environments; “[especially] for existing organizations, changing culture can be by far the most complex step in preparing for occupancy…However, even new healthcare environments are faced with experienced staff bringing a collection of rules, behaviors and processes from previous organizations and educational institutions." ("EDAC Study Guide Series" Concord, CA: Center for Health Design, 2010. Print.)

One rule to consider? Short, memorable directions. “If someone walks in the door, you want to get them to their destination in three steps or less," Duane suggests.

Staff discuss strategy

Part of planning is thinking about how people get around within new spaces as well as how they connect to existing ones. “When you have a new remodel or addition—and this happens with architects—you're adding a new tower and everything stops right at the construction line," Duane says.

A masterplan can help you integrate the new space with the existing facility. It ensures that both areas are connected with integral signage so people can navigate through the whole. Plus, they can help you discover that you're creating more potential chaos—it prompts you to think about the way you're rearranging things.

3. Traffic patterns are everything.

The masterplan process can help an organization consider a department relocation more thoughtfully. And an evidence-based approach to drafting a masterplan adds deeper information. While it's important for a design team to go work with the staff and users of a department to understand what they need, it's just as important to look beyond superficial patterns—to analyze how workflow and configurations can help a space function better.

“You have things like the imaging department, the cafeteria – those are locked in place," Susan says. “They can't be moved around because it would be too costly. So, your solution results in moving other departments around them."

Plan for paths of travel

For instance, suppose you're moving an ER. Sometimes, hospitals are only thinking about people pulling up to the ER entrance in a car, but not about how people are going to get around once they're inside. What happens if people must go through the cafeteria to get to there? “If you move the ER to the other side of a building because it's, say, closer to the freeway, you have to think about how visitors get to the ER—and how they travel to the imaging department from there," Susan says.

4. And, speaking of cars and entrances.

Two people get in car

The other thing about a masterplan is how vehicular traffic translates to pedestrian traffic and back again. Facilities need to think about the inconveniences of the whole campus when they move departments within a building so a masterplan will be reflective of the entire experience.

And wayfinding begins before people arrive. It could include a text or email you send to a visitor before they come, telling them how to get where they're going from home to entrance to department. Where to park. Symbols or icons to look for.

“Make sure you consider the whole experience, from the time people leave home to the time they return home," Susan says.

5. When your brand is at stake, your reputation is on the line.

By considering every facet of the experience, you're saying something about your brand. You're communicating in a way that reflects the brand's emotional intelligence. In a healthcare environment, there are six components that matter:

1. People
2. Physical space
3. Layout of operations
4. Processes in place
5. Model for the delivery of care
6. Implementation

Juggle the 6 Environment of Care models

And each of these components can be an asset or a liability, depending on how well you execute on them. Because each points back to your brand. “Poor wayfinding isn't just about people reacting with 'I can't find my way around this huge footprint,'" Duane says. “They draw conclusions as to customer service. Confusion generates stress. When visitors become stressed and anxious, they associate that with your brand." So, when your wayfinding doesn't work well, it can do some serious damage to your reputation.


A wayfinding masterplan can spare your visitors anxiety they'll carry with them about your brand forever. Why risk it, when a masterplan can help ensure you greet, guide, and send off every visitor feeling confident and satisfied?


Visit our Wayfinding page -or- Request a complimentary consultation

Posted in: Branding, Wayfinding  |  Tagged: Directional Signage, Environmental Graphics, Icons, Interior Design, maps, Wayfinding

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