University of Michigan Hospital 

Patient Waiting Experience

About The Project

For this project, I worked with a team of eight designers to improve the waiting experience for patients coming in for surgery and their friends, families, and caretakers.


Michigan Medicine initiated a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategic Plan, with a mission to “Champion diversity and inclusion, to foster innovation and new knowledge for the benefit of our patients, our community, and society.


Our task was to improve this already stressful experience in a way that is more welcoming, accessible, and comfortable for all. We worked primarily with the Quality Assessment/Quality Improvement manager and the desk staff to gain insight on the environment and flow of the day for patients and their families. Our primary goals for the project were:

  • Humanize aspects of the patient & visitor experience

  • Optimize the hospital staff’s workflow 

  • Make the space more inclusive of a diverse visitor population

My Role

After the full team initial research, brainstorming, and identification of goals, I was focused on improving the wayfinding of the hospital. This included working in a subgroup of 4 designers to create new iconography, maps, signage, and a scavenger hunt. 

Design team: Sara Ciaramella, Rachel Krasnick, Heidi Liu, Andrew Lopes, Andrew Hwang, Maddi Lelli, Shwetha Rajaram, Minjee Kim

Project Duration: 4 weeks

Our team, Photos of the space on our first visit

Initial Research

On our first visit, we followed the patient’s and caretaker’s flow of the day, from finding the front desk, getting moved to pre-op, and finding the cafeteria. We also observed some of the processes that happen behind the scene, such as the organization and sanitization of the OR equipment. 


We sat down with members of the office staff to understand the way they give information to the families, the questions they get asked most often, and the pain points of their jobs. We also interviewed families in the waiting room to understand how they felt and what their experience was when they came in that day.


After analyzing this information, we worked through affinity mapping exercises and defined the areas we wanted to work on. We broke into two teams: Information Design and Wayfinding.


Team Wayfinding was focused on clarifying what resources were available in the hospital, improving the mapping and signage, and encouraging caretakers to explore the hospital as a way to encourage movement and distract them from the anxieties of waiting for a loved one in surgery. I worked on team wayfinding.


Team Information Design was focused on managing the caretaker’s expectations and the way information is communicated to them regarding the flow of the day.  

Although both teams had specific goals, the eight of us worked together throughout the research stage and to develop a consistent visual language for the final deliverables. 

Examples of handouts and communication methods between staff and caretakers

Affinity mapping 


My team went back to the hospital to conduct more research with a focus on wayfinding. We completed a Value Opportunity Analysis to review the following areas of improvement: Emotion, Aesthetics, Identity, Impact, Ergonomics, Core Technologies, and Quality. 


We found that the area with the most room for improvement was Emotion. The main sub categories of emotion that we analyzed were Adventure, Independence, Security, Confidence, and Power. Most of these rated low, as the caretakers and families are at the mercy of the hospital staff to recieve information, anxious, and are generally stuck in one place for hours on end. 


The more we familiarized ourselves with the hospital, the more we found resources and amenities around the hospital that aren’t consistently communicated to patients and caretakers. If you have small children in the waiting area, you can walk to Mott Children’s Hospital and visit their Gameday Experience play area, or find the life-sized Big Bird and Spiderman statues. There’s commissioned artwork around the hospital, with rotating exhibits. On Thursdays, someone plays the piano in one of the waiting areas. There’s also a chapel/reflection space, and regular visits from therapy dogs around the hospital.


We wanted to create new maps that helped patients and caretakers feel secure in knowing where they were in the hospital, and to learn about resources around the hospital and feel confident in their ability to find them. We also wanted to build a scavenger hunt component to encourage exploration and movement, and to provide parents with young children more options while they wait. 

Existing Signage

Hospital Amenities, Value Opportunity Analysis

Our Solutions

Our main concern was improving the emotional experience through wayfinding. We wanted caretakers, families, and friends to feel well-informed on hospital amenities and their locations, and to allow them to feel confident and secure in their ability to leave the waiting area and find their way back for updates about their loved one. In our final proposal, we presented the printing and development budgets of our solutions. We also recommended that all printed solutions be printed in a variety of languages.  


We worked with the Information Design team to create a full set of icons. Our main goals were consistency, legibility, and inclusivity. We were very specific in our use of color, contrast, and illustration style so that they were effective for people with low vision, colorblindness, or those who don’t read/speak English. 

The colors shown on the full set of icons below would correlate to the section of the hospital they are located in when used on maps. 

Early Iterations to high contrast style

Illustrations used for Information Handouts

Full Icon Set for wayfinding


We created maps that were simplified, color coordinated by zones of the hospital, and communicate almost entirely through images so that they can be widely understood. 

Map Options - Isometric, color coated, flat

Brochure Mockup

Map Mockups in physical space

Scavenger Hunt

This is the scavenger hunt we created to encourage movement around the hospital and to provide parents with more options when waiting with children. As a short term solution, we made an 8.5x11 handout that could be given by the front desk. We suggested a small prize for completing the hunt, and included coins that you could “collect” at each stop. For a long term, we proposed an AR, PokemonGo style app, as a digital experience to guide visitors through the hospital and provide more information about the different spaces and exhibitions. 

Scavenger Hunt Physical Map, 8.5x11

App Mockup

Hospital Staff with Scavenger Hunt


We presented our final proposal to a variety of hospital staff. About 15 people came to the presentation, including directors, managers, and desk staff. Our work was very well received. The desk staff that we had interviewed early on were particularly excited about the conclusions we had come to, and loved that we came up with answers beyond what they had expected. Our solutions varied in what could be implemented right away (printing the scavenger hunt, or new information brochures) and what would need to go through several levels of approval (New mobile application, online patient tracking dashboard, hospital-wide wayfinding). The desk staff wanted to print out what they could immediately. There was expressed interest in having us present our work to larger group of board members over the summer, and the hospital has  since created a UX design work study position for next academic year. 

© 2018 Sara Ciaramella

Sara Ciaramella