Navigating Duke Hospital with SEDO

SEDO MaterialsIf you think the Medical Center is easy to get lost in now, consider what it may have been like decades ago, before standardized signage was created. 45 years ago this month, March 1971, Duke University Medical Center introduced its first major signage system, SEDO.

During the 1960s, the Medical Center experienced unprecedented growth. New development meant more buildings, more employees, and more patients. As it expanded, the need for a way to easily navigate the growing complex became increasingly important. To address this issue, Duke hired a graphic designer to produce and oversee the implementation of a new wayfinding system. 

The result was SEDO, or “System for Environmental Direction and Orientation.” This new approach divided the Medical Center into eight major, color coded zones. Within each zone, lit signage was installed overhead to help guide individuals to nearby clinics, departments, and wards (the front page of the Intercom, pictured below, shows a photo of the installation process). All signage, elevators, and stairway doors were made to match the color zone in which they were located. In addition to the signage, leaflets were created to introduce the color coding system to patients and visitors. (Pictured above is a leaflet about the color zones next to the official SEDO guide.)

SEDO in Intercom, 1971

While the signage from SEDO is gone, color zones are still used at the Hospital today. The Archives has a variety of materials related to the planning and implementation of SEDO – including correspondence, publications, and documentation – that would be of interest to those researching hospital design, wayfinding and the built environment, and graphic design. To learn more about these materials, contact the Archives staff.


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