We just stumbled upon this slide show – it’s a summary of a project to standardize signage for infection control over a number of hospitals. The hospital system wanted to do so in order to reduce rates of multidrug-resistant infections and better meet CDC and state guidelines.
Then they make an observation that’s blindingly and stupefyingly obvious to us, but we have to give them credit as this is the first time we’ve heard a hospital system say it: Their signage is inconsistent in colour, design and wording, and this is a bad thing for many reasons.
They give many good points as to why standardization of communications is important:
– Standard communications prevent infection, make hospitals more compliant and make patients feel secure.
– It reduces duplication of work, increases standards of care and gets visitors working with staff.
– It simplifies caregiving by reducing confusion among both family and staff.
When it came to design elements, they identified many points that we’ve mentioned countless times: the importance of symbols, minimization of text, universal understandability.
They then designed their new signage and checked it for suitability among many stakeholders, from patients and staff to the CDC and Joint Commission.
But unfortunately the one group they didn’t ask was designers like us.
If so, we would have told them that their colour codes were exclusive rather than inclusive, a confusing cipher rather than recognizable in itself. Furthermore, deciding to link situations (precaution type) to colours results in a muddled mess of combinations. We’d choose a different direction to represent situations – symbols.
Those are accessible to the large percentage of the population that is colour blind, they speak to those with low health or language literacy, and they are ripe for setting immediately recognizable and impactful standards.
Standardization of communications is a good – no, great start, but without far-sighted design input at all aspects of production, placement, expansion and distribution, healthcare graphics will continue to need serious help.