Follow the mustard line..

And no, we weren’t on the yellow brick road! Last week my son broke his arm and this prompted our first visit to the local hospital in a new country (we moved countries about 6 months ago) – something we were already apprehensive about as the medical system seemed to work differently here to what we have been used to, but we were most certainly not expecting to find ourselves lost in the depths of a hospital trying to follow the mustard line.

You see, after being seen to in the Triage room – we were sent to Minor Injuries – however, in order to get there, we were ushered through a door and told to follow the mustard line.

After looking around, we found the mustard line, painted on the wall of the corridor we were in, next to a purple line, a blue line, and some other color line. As someone who is color blind, fortunately, I had my whole family with me to make sure we followed the right one to start with!

Now clearly some design agency had spent some time thinking that a wayfinding system based on colors and directional lines painted onto the walls was a creative and unique way to direct patients around the labyrinth of passages that make up a hospital, however, it quickly fell apart through lack of consistency.

After seeing the mustard line on the wall in three places as we progressed down the corridors it quickly set in place a precedent that the directional wayfinding system was painted on the walls. So we kept following the mustard line until we could not find it anymore and then we carried on walking down passages hoping to find another one somewhere – perhaps they had run out of paint – the purple and blue lines (and the other one) made a reappearance, but the mustard one was gone.

We looked lost at this point, and I presume this is something the staff of the hospital sees quite often as we were quickly asked by a passerby where we were trying to go, and after telling them we were looking for the mustard line they pointed back up the passageway and said: “It’s there, in the block on the floor.” It took us a while to actually still figure out that the mustard line had suddenly moved from being on the wall to on the floor, so while you walked down the passage watching the walls, as per the precedent set, why would you suddenly start looking on the floor?

For the rest of our visit to the hospital, we found ourselves second-guessing where we need to go, our trust in the system had been broken and we reverted back to asking for directions instead. When it came time to exit the hospital, there was no line to follow, we just walked down a passage until we found an old-fashioned exit sign, and followed them until we escaped the corridors back into the world.

What lesson did I take from this? Consistency in your design approach earns the trust of your customers, and changes should be introduced in a way that leads a customer to see the change, take them with you in your journey and decision-making process if you change things, don’t leave it up to them to figure it out.

Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash


By Gary Murray

Product & Focus lead at WooCommerce.