Wayfinding, Healthcare, Case Studies
NewYork-Presbyterian Columbia University Medical Center
Cloud Gehshan Associates

The Challenge

NewYork-Presbyterian Columbia University Medical Center has always been associated with great doctors and positive health outcomes, but in 2001 CUMC confronted a customer relations problem. Research revealed that a majority of visitors got lost trying to reach appointments, a frustrating and stressful experience. In spite of CUMC’s top ranking for patient care, its sprawling campus had become extremely hard to navigate. Lack of funding for public amenities and insufficient design oversight resulted in poorly maintained or confusing signage, unmarked buildings, and conflicting information systems. CMUC’s sterling reputation was compromised by a substandard visitor experience.

Project Brief

Principal Sylvia Harris advised a group of CMUC administrators and design consultants dedicated to creating more user-centered communications and wayfinding. Over a six-year period the team developed new exterior and interior signage, a comprehensive campus map, and specific employee protocols.

Team Players

CMUC formed a steering committee with representatives from all public-facing departments to champion the wayfinding initiative. CitizenR&D, formerly Sylvia Harris LLC, guided the team and conducted a search for an environmental design consultant. The project’s success ultimately hinged on the introduction of a new position, Visitor Information Manager, charged with keeping project goals on track.



The team followed a carefully orchestrated research and testing process, conducting interviews with typical users to reveal problems and concerns. New management systems ensured the availability of adequate funding and human resources. Finally, the team devised a new branding and nomenclature strategy that set standards for future communications.



New signage now clearly marks campus perimeters, building entrances, elevators, and key destinations. A joint branding program presents the many individual campus institutions and reassures visitors that they have, indeed, arrived at the right place. Just as the new CMUC brand underscores institutional unity, the campus map coheres all wayfinding elements— from website to sidewalk signs to building passes and printed guides.




Since people respond to a variety of navigation cues, the wayfinding strategy relies not only on signage and maps, but also on helpful staff advice. Visitors now get information exactly when and where they need it.