Orientation guide for hospitalized kids’ parents

Facilitation, Healthcare, UX Design, UX Research

After leaving the UVM Medical Center’s Children’s Hospital, parents complained that they were not aware of all of the resources available to them. Some didn’t realize, for example, that there were laundry services. The Pediatric Patient and Family Advisory Council was aware of this problem for some time, and they wanted to create a resource that would effectively orient parents.


Workshop with parent advisors

First, I organized a workshop with the parent volunteers who make up the advisory council. The goal was to elicit information from them about a memorable time they stayed at the hospital; what happened, and what did they wish they’d known? We did a visual timeline exercise, with each person creating a timeline of their stay.

We then had each participant tell the story to the group. The session was powerful, and we heard a lot about key breakdowns in communication and transparency. However, it quickly became apparent that many of their more ‘practical’ worries (like laundry, coffee, etc.) had faded with time; only the larger and more fundamental concerns remained in their memories. These were important, but we needed to get a broader understanding. So the next step was to spend time with parents and staff on the pediatric unit.

Observation and Interviews

To get a better understanding of parents’ questions and staff members’ strategies for answering them, I did the following activities:

  • Shadowed rounds and spoke with parents
  • Hung out in the parent ‘break room’ and asked them questions
  • Observed activity on the unit
  • Spoke with nurses and other staff about the questions they get
  • Shadowed a tour of the pre-procedure area and pediatric unit by a Child Life specialist

Key insight: many parents are ‘stuck in the room’ for days at a time.

“When you come in here you’re not thinking of yourself. You’re thinking of [your child], and doing everything you can to help them. Then you get here and realize you need things like clothes.”
—A mom

“They offered to do a tour when I first got here, but I didn’t want to leave him.”
—Another mom

This insight led us toward designing an informational guide with parents ‘stuck in the room’ in mind; as a principle, that helped us exclude certain information (such as parking rates) that would not be relevant. Through all of the above activities I learned a lot about parents’ needs regarding food, linens, activities and more. But I still wondered: what am I missing? What would parents want to tell one another?

Tip board

I observed that parents in the break room and hallways tended to give one another tips. When I talked to them about it, they said it made them feel good to help others. I also observed that parents and kids tended to gather in a high-traffic area just outside the play room. So, I installed a temporary tip board intended to elicit tips and notes for parents, by parents.

It had slips of paper in pockets that parents could use to add a note, and there were stickers to add to notes that they liked.

I added a few ‘seed’ notes based on tips I’d heard parents giving each other.

A few weeks later, the board had exploded with notes and stickers; someone had also decorated it with a tissue flower:

Interestingly, parents gave one another moral support more often than the type of very detailed tips that we were expecting. For example:

As you’ll see, we decided to incorporate these recommendations into the final guide as supplemental tips.

Design principles
Based on what we’d learned along our journey, and in collaboration with the pediatric advisory council, we put together a set of guiding design principles to inform what the end solution should be like:

  • Focused on parents ‘in the room.’
  • Handicapped-accessible
  • Washable/sanitizable (if reusable)
  • Include only the minimal information that is helpful
  • Text must be legible, enough contrast, etc
  • Minimal space taken up by branding
  • Information that changes often should not be included
  • Must be able to change out information without too much trouble
  • Not salesy

Prototyping & Testing

Digital strategy
It was time to address an important assumption the team had made: that the ‘solution’ would be a printed guide. The advisory council met together and, using the design principles above, brainstormed alternative ways of getting parents the information they need to know. We had observed many parents using their phones, and we felt that a digitally-served solution could make a lot of sense; however, we were not immediately in the position to create this. So in the interim, we went forward with the printed guide, with the understanding that we wanted to make sure all of the information eventually was available online as well.

Creating and testing the printed guide
I gathered together all of the information I’d collected in the project, put it into an outline, and then did an informal sorting exercise to determine how to break it up into sections. At one point I had information laid out all over the floor of my home office; it was fun.

The architecture of the guide took shape on my floor.

When it felt right, I put the information into a half-page booklet indesign template and printed out a few versions.

An early draft of the guide

I took these drafts to the pediatric unit and had staff and patients review them; the nurses helped me update some factual information, and otherwise they liked them and thought they would be helpful.

I also took a version back to the advisory council and held a feedback meeting. In this meeting, I had participants write down all of their feedback on sticky notes; then they put all of their notes on a master version of the guide up on the wall:

This was a new experience for them, and new way of giving more visual input. It also helped me ensure we heard all of their concerns in the small time we had together.

Final writing & production

After a few rounds of revisions on the prototype, I wrote and laid out the final version of the guide in InDesign. I collaborated with designer Alli Berry, who helped set the final styles and find appropriate images. Below are some sample spreads:

Parent tips (in yellow) are sprinkled throughout

We included practical information like what’s in your room, and activities to do or request

Parents can take notes about medications, care team members, and more.

When it was ready, I collaborated with my colleague Karly Moore and the internal hospital print shop to get these booklets printed and distributed.


The Pediatric Patient and Family Advisory Council was very proud of this project. They really felt that they had accomplished something important, and they celebrated the release of the guide at a special event. Feedback from nurses and patients has been positive, and the guide is still in production.