Using Design to Make the “Waiting Room” a Good Thing

Image: Marc oh! | Flickr
Image: Marc oh! | Flickr

What Should People Do When They Wait?

How do you design for the function of waiting? Do your building occupants ever really wait? Typically, they move from one activity to another, but it is equally important to also design for those in-between moments. What happens during those “between” moments can really impact an occupant’s experience; thus, as a designer, you can make what goes on inside a waiting room a great experience.

Take hospitals, for instance. Once a patient has gone through the initial phase of “checking in”, then begins the often long and frequently boring wait. Unfortunately, many hospital designs don’t place an emphasis on providing for an optimal waiting area — and that is really a missed opportunity.

Just think of the things that could be accomplished and provided for patients, if only architects would give some serious thought to what patients actually need during this time. For example, within a hospital waiting room, patients could get views of nature or be surrounded by calming colors and pleasing sounds — thus, soothing patient anxiety and stress.

Another tactic that would help patients endure those long “waiting periods” involves giving thought to the arrangement and ergonomics of where they sit. Comfort while waiting is key, particularly for hospital patients who might be in a great deal of pain.

I have noticed that many waiting rooms incorporate televisions which play TV channels that patients can watch or listen to. In essence, this is a great idea — but what about those that don’t want to watch television, particularly when a waiting room only broadcasts news or other intense shows. It is important to realize that there is a difference between trying to distract a patient from boredom versus bombarding them with additional stressors.

Waiting Rooms Can Also Serve Other Functions

So, what can waiting rooms do? They can serve as buffer zones, transitional areas or even learning places — as they receive occupants coming from one place and then prepare them to go into the next. For example, hospital waiting rooms can serve all three of these functions at once.

Here are some examples:

  • provide patients with a place of comfort to sooth anxiety and stress
  • give patients a feeling of safety (knowing they will be receiving quality medical attention soon)
  • teach patients to come up with important questions while they wait (to ask their doctor once inside the ER)

Thus, waiting room areas can be an important link that makes your architectural design work more smoothly for your occupants. In reality, your occupants may spend a lot of time in these zones. If not designed properly, these areas could be your building’s weakest link — which could ultimately weigh down the success of your overall design.

Conversely, the design of your waiting room could be so successful that it becomes one of the strongest links in your design. Don’t underestimate the challenge involved in designing a good one.

Please Tell Me What You Think

I would really like to get your opinion on my post today, so please leave me a comment in the form below. And if you enjoyed it, make sure you share it with your Twitter followers by “tweeting” it using the re-tweet button on this page.

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  1. nancy er nurse says

    Oh yes the ER waiting room. so much drama, lets make the chairs as uncomfortable as possible, that way folks won’t stay and wait. lets make the chairs tiny and small for the obese American so they can be humiliated if they try to squeeze into a seated position. lets not have a “well” side or “sick” side.or a kids side, just let them run around spreading what ever virus they have to all. One TV, for the whole place. did I mention smells?
    forget about keeping the public informed of the 4-5 hour wait time or why, Hippa be damned.
    Try to explain to a person with 12 family members who haven’t seen Grandpa in 2 years that now are enraged because we are crowded.
    Nurse, I want those little slippers, a meal tray and sierra mist..and hurry.

    • says


      Yes! I think the design of a hospital can be so much better… to help patients and their visitors. Needless to say, it can also go a long way toward helping the medical team do their job with less unnecessary stress. There are so many things that can be done from a design standpoint for hospitals that, for one reason or another, never get resolved. And sadly, the patients suffer — along with the medical team that has so many demands upon them. I think if hospital designers really took a hard look at hospitals from a “sensory design” perspective, they might suddenly see the “pain” that so often is made worse (instead of better) due to the building/environmental design.

      Thanks for your comments…it’s good to read what you as an ER nurse “see”, as it can help designers to get a better inside view of what really is important to get right within a hospital.