Sociopetal versus Sociofugal Waiting Area Layouts
December 4, 2018
Libby Laguta, CHID, EDAC, ACHE
I am a certified healthcare interior designer specializing in acute care, outpatient care, and residential care. I have 35 years of experience and have a passion for design that heals. I believe in creative yet practical design solutions that provide a budget-conscious solution. The goal is create proud ownership with all stakeholders; staff, patients, and families.
Sociopetal waiting layouts were once thought to be the best. LIke petals radiating from the center of a flower, designers were striving for "conversation groups" and a combination of lounge seating and chairs with a lesser footprint. The results looked similar to our living rooms at home. We implemented furnishings plans in medical office buildings with sociopetal layouts and we even planned them inside the hospital; in radiology waiting and outpatient areas.
Sociofugal waiting areas, on the other hand, line chairs up in rows with ganging mechanisms. The problem is that people don't like to sit next to strangers. They will leave a seat between themselves and their neighbor and will gravitate their position between a chair closest to the door to their exam room or near an outlet to re-charge their devices. While this layout seems to create the largest seating count, it also creates the most wasted amount of seats because of the habit of leaving vacant seats between patients and families.
As designers, we need to advise our clients of the pros and cons of each option and make a recommendation that is best for the stakeholders. It could be a combination of sociopetal and sociofugal arrangements in an acute care setting. It could be a total sociopetal configuration in a residential healthcare scenario, as in the lobby of an assisted living community. Another possibility is table placement between a sociopetal circle of chairs as shown above. The right answer lies in the use of available space.