Mountain Zone Mural - Bears

Mountain Zone Mural – Bears

We’re a mere three months away from opening Building Hope, our cancer, critical and emergency care expansion. Building Hope will create positive change for our hospital campus: the addition of spaces that are physically and functionally flexible; design that promotes a safe and healing environment; and spaces that improve flow and efficiency.

It’s a great milestone for Seattle Children’s – but the added space will substantially alter our hospital footprint.To seamlessly weave Building Hope into the hospital layout, Children’s today unveiled a new directional wayfinding system to help patients, families, staff and visitors easily navigate the expanding campus. “Wayfinding” includes signage, maps, colors, floor numbers, room numbers, design schemes and visual cues – anything that helps people identify where they are and gets them to where they want to go. Children’s has been preparing for wayfinding changes for more than two years.

We’ve replaced our six-zone wayfinding system, which consisted of zones like Giraffe, Whale and Train, with four Pacific Northwest-themed zones – Forest, River, Mountain and Ocean. The Forest zone exclusively includes the new Building Hope location and will be accessible in April, while the other zones encompass the space currently in use.

Ocean Zone Art

Ocean Zone Art

Elevators have also been renamed to align with zone themes. For example, the newly named “Octopus” elevator can be found in the Ocean zone.

“The wayfinding system is easy to use and is expected to save countless hours by allowing our staff and visitors to move more efficiently throughout our new and existing buildings,” said Todd Johnson, wayfinding project lead and vice president of facilities at Seattle Children’s.

Helping People Find Their Way with Art

New zones feature family-friendly art, including colorful murals and carved surfaces, which correspond with zone themes and support a healing environment intended to calm anxieties and offer discovery, amusement and positive distractions. The art complements other wayfinding elements like signs, symbols and colors.

Wayfinding art by the numbers:

  • 10,000 new signs will be installed. About 7,800 new signs have been installed to date. When Building Hope opens, an additional 2,200 signs will be put into place. Some of the signs showcase room numbers and zone names.
  • Over 1,000 square feet of new mural art has been installed thus far. Artwork is printed on a fire-rated wall covering material that is both very durable and can show the brilliant colors of the designs. Additional artwork is planned for Building Hope.

The Why Behind the Designs

River Zone Art

River Zone Art

To ensure that the new system would be easily understood by the diverse populations Children’s serves, we tested the icons, signs and art with patients, families and staff before final designs were selected. Testing helped uncover which designs would be most universally understandable and culturally acceptable by the many people who come to the hospital each day. For example, we use universal symbols like a fork and knife to mark the cafeteria.

In addition, colors used in wayfinding art were selected to be distinguishable by those with different types of color blindness. Colors also meet color contrast guidelines set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Our testing team uncovered some interesting findings during design testing, some of which include:

  • Animals should appear alone and also in family groups. Testing unveiled the importance of having animals appear in artwork both alone and as part of their family groups to mirror how different patients may feel in the hospital.
  • When selecting elevator names, testing groups advised us not to use the name “Turtle”. They felt this could imply a slow elevator.
  • “Valley,” an initial zone name, was rejected because our test groups felt the word could be associated with declining health.
  • We determined the importance of calling each of our stories a “level” instead of a “floor”. Testing found that some associated “floor” with literally being placed on the floor.
Forest Zone Art 2

Forest Zone Art – Can Be Seen In Building Hope in April

Seattle-based Studio SC, an environmental graphics consultant firm, designed the wayfinding signage and graphics system. This included development of the system’s overall look, layout and its sign materials. Studio SC has experience designing wayfinding systems for airports and other complex and busy places like Children’s where people may be under stress and trying to get to their locations in a hurry.

Wayfinding artwork was created by Lab Partners of Oakland, Calif. who were selected for their range of experience and engaging styles. Lab Partners designed murals, carved surfaces, zone icons and art inside elevators, on sky bridges and areas where one zone transitions to another.

Several pieces of the hospital’s previous artwork were carefully relocated to other Children’s locations away from the main campus so they can continue to be enjoyed in the future.

Additional Resources

For more on the wayfinding changes or Building Hope:

For Media

If you’re a member of the media and would like to learn more about the wayfinding changes or Building Hope, please contact Children’s PR team at 206-987-4500 or at