The Challenge

Choc Children’s Hospital is a world-class, non-profit health system whose focus is to keep childhood alive and well. We were charged to design a system of graphics and environmental features for a new children’s mental health unit that were visually engaging while selecting forms, materials and applications that restricted users from harming themselves or others. Additional design constraints and considerations were children who had light, color and visual stimulation sensitivities.

As it turns out, it’s incredibly difficult to design California Building Code compliant signage systems that meet the highest standards of patient safety for this kind of environment.

Wayfinding Strategy

Using the floor plan above (details omitted for security), we begin to understand where wayfinding is needed and can create conceptual drawings on how people will experience the space.

We considered four key elements for the design system including: patient safety, code requirements and best practices, clear organization within the unit, and visual harmony between systems.

During the conceptual phase, a few design principles surfaced:

seamlessly join identification and wayfinding elements with the interior architecture program; use smart design solutions to promote better healthcare outcomes; utilize existing research and conduct our own to use the best materials and design approach.

Design Concept

The concept divided the space into four quadrants coinciding with subdivisions inherent in the architecture, and that served security and hospital personnel. The system tied patient rooms to nursing stations—giving staff, residents, and visitors an easy visual cue of their location within the unit as well as where to go when questions or special needs arose.

Color and Iconography

We reinforced the concept with color and iconography—distinct cues that could be used in a variety of ways to create spatial relationships and location awareness from the viewer’s perspective. These visual cues translate easily into verbal commands as well.


The application of graphics coincided with and adhered to our research conducted throughout the schematic design phase. A few key principles were:

(1) chaotic and/or overly abstract artwork is stressing to patients;

(2) mental health care environments should reflect non-healthcare environments purpose-designed for adolescents. This increases their feeling of connection to the outside world;


Colors and iconography were carefully considered and applied judiciously throughout the space, creating a balance between code requirements and moments where additional graphics and colors would enhance the experience.


Information, care and nurse stations received additional color treatment, creating a sense of destination and distinct from other common areas of the mental health unit.









Patient Safety

An important aspect of the program were signs and other messages that did not allow for patients to damage, destroy, or use as a weapon. This isn’t easy to achieve, as methods to construct are often cost-prohibitive.

Furthermore, without close coordination and early involvement with the general contractor, the preparation to achieve the desired result ends up being retroactive in nature, effectively doubling costs (or more) of required sign types.

Donor Recognition

We were able to integrate donor recognition and additional language support throughout the mental healthcare unit as well, taking care to create space for unique naming opportunities without obfuscating the system.

Outdoor Playground

On the outside, we considered surfaces that were made of durable materials but that also absorbed high impacts. There were manufacturing limitations with the flooring surface—it needed to reflect the color of the indoor unit without being too stimulating. This was overcome with a colorful, but simple and soothing palette of shapes that blended hues in the sky with those in the flooring and playground equipment.


Many of the images above are purely for illustration purposes. For security reasons, final photographs and/or other images of the finished product have been omitted, though the final installation did resemble what is shown here. Dimensional features of the program to meet ADA (and other) requirements are not presented. Other technical details concerning fit, finish and impact protection and resistance to abuse have also been left out.

Given the challenges faced concerning the sensitivities of the people using the facility, not to mention budgetary constraints, we consider the outcome a success. All parties involved learned a great deal about what is best for this kind of environment and the people using it on a day-to-day basis. Early collaboration—before architectural drawings have been made—will yield the best results.

This project was completed while employed as Design Director at Formation in Houston, Texas.


  • Consultant / Patient Experience

  • Environmental Graphic Design / Wayfinding / Signage

  • Design / Programming / Systems Design

  • Design Development / Documentation

  • Illustration / Interior Graphics / Exterior Graphics


  • Client / CHOC Children’s Hospital

  • Architect / Haynes + Oakley

  • Design Office / Formation

  • Creative Direction / Tyler Swanner / Philip LeBlanc

  • Research / Formation



  • (2) THE ROLE OF THE PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT IN THE HOSPITAL OF THE 21st CENTURY: A ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME OPPORTUNITY. 2004. Ulrich, R.,Quan, X. Zimring, C., Joseph, A., Choudahry, R., Center for Health Systems and Design, College of Architecture, Texas A&M University, and College of Architecture, Georgia Institute of Technology

Tags /

Problem Solving · Environmental Design · Healthcare Design · Wayfinding