Nationwide Children’s Hospital /

At the nation’s second-busiest and third-largest children’s hospital, natural elements, pathways, and landmarks create an easy to navigate and humanizing experience.

The challenge

Develop clear wayfinding and create a positive sense of place for families to be one of the first comprehensive contributions to humanize the healthcare system in the country

The outcome

Colorful walls, oversized signage, and leaf motifs on the floor provide clear wayfinding and visual cues for patients and families. Environmental graphics – brightly colored silhouettes of native Ohio flora and fauna – bring the natural world into the hospital. An easily identified floor pattern runs through the hospital campus; its path colors and markers along the way help patients find their destinations.


Entrance /OutpatientEntranceEntrance /Surgery ValetUrgentCareInterventionalRadiologyMRIGiftShopPatientServicesChapelFamilyResourceCenterCafeteriaGI ProcedureJ-WestGiftShopSterritte AtriumDialysisUltrasoundRadiologyEmergencyRoomPharmacySoloveLobbyTowerLobbyStecker AuditoriumOutpatientCare CenterLobbyTimkenHallWexnerResearchWexnerAnnexSibling CareQ’sCafeC BuildingLobbyEducationCenterRecordsATEDJGHCKXABMRGWWA

Ad-hoc condition

This sprawling campus was constructed over the course of 50 years, resulting in a dissonant naming and building identification system. Navigating the campus was often confusing to patients, staff, and guests.







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User testing

A series of user surveys, in collaboration with Nationwide’s Diversity Council, informed and inspired our design solution. These surveys asked participants to select a preferred method of navigation – districts versus paths – as well as words and phrases that best describe an ideal design program.


  • Nomenclature caused confusion
  • Destinations were assigned multiple names
  • Alphanumeric system was out of sequence



Pathways and destinations

Most people remember four to five directions at a time and require guidance on their journey. By using instructional design to direct people to parking first and then the appropriate elevator, floor level, and room number, we reduced the necessary cognitive load.

Before After
ABR, AUD, EEG Neurosciences
Renal Dialysis Dialysis
Infectious Disease Unit Patient Rooms 000
Information Desks Welcome Center
Fluoroscopy / Radiology XRay

Naming changes

Studies show most technical and medical terms are not understood by all patients and visitors. Our team collaborated with physicians and administrators to develop a comprehensible terminology system that helps users better find their way.

Directional cards

Directional cards

Simplified directions

We designed a system that provides patients with information cards (shown above) in printed and digital formats prior to their visit. These cards reduce the stress of parking and navigating while introducing visitors to the in-building experience ahead of time.

Department identification

Department identification

The system features an easy-to-follow path, simplified department naming, and bold strokes of color at key destinations. Oversized typography, supergraphics, and dimensional landmarks create and provide a constant sense of place.

Level identification – concept

Level identification – concept


  • Reduce the total number of destinations
  • Adjust terminology to be friendly and accessible
  • Simplify the geometry of the campus maps
  • Tune the maps to the viewer
  • Develop a simplified kit of size and colors
  • Create an easy-to-follow path for major corridors
  • Make destinations delightful

The resulting effort was a collaboration between building owner, donors, architects, interiors, and a research-based, strategic design.


The Magic Forest at Nationwide

The Magic Forest at Nationwide

Memorable moments

Design plays a critical role in creating a sense of place. The project has been noted as one of the first comprehensive contributions to humanize the healthcare system in the country. The strength of the project lies in the extraordinary collaborations between the board, medical team, and working design professionals who all have the same vision. We optimized the chance to really shape a children’s health care experience, unlike anything we have ever encountered.

Areas that were less involved with typical traffic patterns received special treatments like digital kiosks to help viewers find their way, and also served as wayfinding landmarks to communicate amenities, marketing announcements, and priority messaging.


Feedback from the wayfinding program has been overwhelmingly positive. Patients, visitors, and staff have expressed how easy it is to locate destinations and give directions, despite the campus’ complexity and scale.


  • 710,000 sq. ft. (new construction)
  • 1,494,500 sq. ft. (renovation)


  • Assessment, testing, design and documentation (2007-2012)
  • Phased implementation (2012-2015)
  • Naming and nomenclature design and development
  • Parking structure graphics and pedestrian wayfinding
  • Donor recognition and donor standards campaigns
  • Concept and thematic architectural development

Project partners

  • FKP Architects
  • Ralph Appelbaum Associates, Inc.


  • Industrial Designers Society of America
  • Graphis Silver
  • Communication Arts Design Annual

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