Blog > Finding Yourself in Senior Living Communities
Finding Yourself in Senior Living Communities

After many visits to senior living communities in the area, I’ve noted that navigating throughout different parts of the many buildings, wings, and floors can be quite tricky as a visitor- and even more so for those with memory impairments. How can these communities improve their wayfinding graphics? How can graphics read as clear and concise, but also respect the fact that they are in a space many call “home”?


I reached out to our in-house wayfinding expert, Hayley Freilich, for her thoughts and opinions.



C: Hi, Hayley, thank you for contributing to our senior living blog series!

Of course! It’s a really important time in the senior living world, especially when it comes to design, so I’m happy to share!



C: What is your background working on wayfinding projects?

I started working on wayfinding projects during college while I was a Graphic Design major at Penn State University. I loved it so much that I ended up designing a wayfinding system and graphic identity for the university’s biochemistry building for my undergraduate thesis. Even back then I was excited by this intersection of graphics and architecture.


Since then, I worked in the Facilities Services department at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. There I managed the interior and exterior wayfinding of the hospital for over a decade. Wayfinding in healthcare is often a challenge. Many facilities are large and tricky to navigate. This adds unnecessary stress for patients, families and even staff. These are people who have enough to worry about already! They do not need the added frustration of getting lost in unfamiliar surroundings.



C: What projects have you worked on/ clients have you worked for at Metcalfe?

My focus has been on the healthcare side of the firm. I’ve continued to work extensively with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia on their new Buerger Center for Advanced Pediatric Care. Our team designed unique play spaces to entertain patients, created hundreds of large scale murals for exam rooms and implemented much of the building’s wayfinding. We’ve continued to design environmental graphics and wayfinding systems for renovations to inpatient units throughout their other buildings, like the new Medical Behavioral Unit. Right now, we are in the midst of designing signage and a customized donor wall for Thomas Jefferson University’s new alumni center.



C: What are some common mistakes that you see in wayfinding signage?

A key misconception about wayfinding is that it is all about signage. It’s not! Many successful wayfinding solutions rely heavily on other elements that work more intuitively with the way humans naturally navigate – like landmarks. Using a mix of elements will be especially helpful for people who have memory impairments. It may be difficult for someone to remember the name of a street, but if they can if a certain building looks familiar, it may help reorient them.



C: Great point! How can you integrate landmarks into a wayfinding strategy?

Use landmarks to your advantage. For a simple solution, you can draw attention to an important location by using a large piece of artwork or an accent wall painted a color that is a significant contrast to the surrounding area.


A more involved means of handling this is to incorporate unique architectural features in a building. This draws attention and pulls traffic toward areas of interest. As an example, if you have a hallway of ten doorways that look alike, you can draw attention to the important one by simply adding a soffit over that doorway. These techniques create clear gateways and guidance for people as they travel through a space.


On the flip side, it is also important to remember to not add visual emphasis to areas you do not want people to enter. Adding dazzling color, sweeping architectural features and artwork everywhere in a space will drown out the areas of importance. It is important to deemphasize as much as it is to emphasize.



C: How can wayfinding for a complex building or set of buildings be simplified? How can it be memorable?

Reduce visual clutter! I had a mentor once who would walk around a building and literally tear down unnecessary posters, flyers and “homemade” signs as she travelled to meetings throughout the day. I am often tempted to do the same thing when I see clients really struggling with visual clutter. The more bits of information you give people to look at, the more likely it will be that the important messages get drowned out.


To create memorable wayfinding, tap into the culture of the people who will use it. Keep their culture in mind as you develop the key components of the wayfinding system, like names of destinations or icons. People recall familiar words and images far more readily than arbitrary ones. By surrounding people with elements that are meaningful to them it also helps put them at ease and feel at home – a major win in a senior living community!



C: What aspect of wayfinding is usually overlooked?

Wayfinding itself usually gets overlooked in an architectural project -- until the very last minute. This delay often leads to missed opportunities, change orders and rushed signage that looks like an afterthought. If the wayfinding system of a project is considered early on, everyone wins. When added to a project team from the beginning, wayfinding designers can:

  • Work with architects to identify obstructions to sightlines. This ensures important navigational information is kept visible.
  • Help sequence room numbers so that the order feels intuitive for people as they travel through a building.
  • Collaborate with the architectural team to incorporate landmarks into the architecture to make key destinations more noticeable and guide traffic.



C: Why hire Metcalfe for wayfinding?

At Metcalfe, we think about people and how they interact with their surroundings and each other. We see wayfinding as not only a means of getting people from Point A to Point B. It can be a tool for driving social interaction and opportunity to enrich an environment.


In a senior living community, residents thrive when they make use of amenities and socialize with their neighbors. An inviting and user-friendly wayfinding system makes travelling throughout a community less daunting and stressful for new residents. It can also encourage people who have lived in a community for years to try adventuring beyond their comfort zone.



C: Any final thoughts?

Wayfinding systems are almost never foolproof in larger buildings or communities. If you find people keep getting confused about where to go in your buildings, don’t fret too much! Use this as a chance to learn which destinations are proving most troublesome. This provides valuable information to a design team as they help you identify and correct areas that cause confusion.


C: Thank you, Hayley!