The Right of Wayfinding

Whether your campus is small and intimate or large and sprawling, visitors require a signage system to find their way around. A campus wayfinding system must strike a precarious balance between being effective, accessible, correct, current, complementary, and appealing. Here we examine some wayfinding successes.

Which Way Do I Go?
The most obvious test of a campus signage system is if it leads you where you need to go. That isn’t as simple as it sounds, however. “A good integrated wayfinding system should almost go unnoticed; when it's working correctly, you can easily navigate through any environment,” said Clint Douthitt, senior designer at Traverse City, MI-based Corbin Design.

“Signage should begin when you enter the campus (or in some cases, even before that) and should be able to get you to any destination on campus without having to ask questions,” said Brett Barry, marketing manager at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, CA.

“Having enough signs is essential,” said Gretchen Von Grossmann, assistant director of Campus Planning and Urban Development at the University of Massachusetts’ Lowell campus. “Ideally, there should be a sign at every key decision point. Any time users need to decide which way to turn, a sign should be there to help guide them to their desired destination.”

Community Pride
A wayfinding system is much more than a bunch of signs, and it serves more purposes that just leading the way to the library. “A wayfinding system can create a sense of place on the grounds, promoting and supporting the college’s or university’s image,” said Douthitt.

“We wanted to make the signage aesthetically pleasing, while at the same time keeping to our branding standards. Sign types can be different and serve different purposes, but the signage should be designed/branded in a way that is consistent throughout,” said Jason Flicker, art director at Azusa Pacific University. “Our design was intentional and followed our branding standards. We made sure to use our brick-red school color as an accent on all signs, and we made sure the logo was used correctly. We worked with the signage company to make sure that our standards for branding were incorporated into the signage.”

“We wanted our new system to help visitors find their way, but we also wanted to create a more welcoming and consistent atmosphere on campus,” said Von Grossmann. “Our University is unique in that it is actually made up of three campuses separated by a couple to several city blocks. The new system presents a consistent feel throughout our widespread campus.”

Upkeep and Maintenance
Hanging a bunch of signs and forgetting about them does not make for a good signage system. The upkeep and updating is just as important as the initial installation.

“Destination name changes can affect a multitude of things, like exterior and interior guides, identification, and map signs. That can add up in a hurry, especially if it is not a modular system. We try to keep that in mind when we design our systems,” said Douthitt.

“Our sign system is brand new, and we have already faced an incident of graffiti vandalism,” said Von Grossman. “Luckily, it was easily cleaned. We are also currently working on a system that will allow users to request new signs as they are needed.”

“Annually updating directories is a recurring cost,” said Barry. “When offices move locations, or when new buildings are constructed (which has happened frequently), we revise our signage both in terms of placement and installing new signage at new locations. We make sure to update our online signage biannually, and that helps us to also stay aware of which physical signs need to be updated. We make sure that signage is cleaned annually so that it looks nice. We intentionally chose signage that we knew would be easy to maintain.”

Users With Disabilities

It is important to keep in mind everyone who will be using the campus. Individuals with disabilities need to find their way as well and should be accommodated by the wayfinding system.

“All of our signs are ADA compliant,” said Von Grossmann. “The text is sized to be seen easily and colored to be highly contrasting to the background color. The campus maps are situated to be easily approachable by users with mobility issues.”

“We made sure we had Braille incorporated on all of our indoor building location signage, i.e. classroom signs, office signs, etc.,” said Flicker. “We made sure to consider the height of the sign and the typography/font size for readability. We placed the signs at locations that were accessible, as well.”

Helpful Hints
If you are considering creating or updating your campus’s signage system, here are some guidelines that may prove helpful.

“Don't over-complicate things. Simplify terminology, keep in mind the audience that is to use the system, and get an outside perspective,” said Douthitt. “Don’t focus entirely on signs. There are many more aspects to wayfinding than just signs.”

“Involve the campus community,” suggested Von Grossmann. “Before and during the sign implementation process, we met with several campus communities to define their needs and to ensure the system was meeting them. The many comments we receive from happy users leads us to believe that we succeeded.”

“Don’t skimp. Signage should have a decent budget. We walked the campus with different audience groups to get a solid understanding of how different types of people move around on campus. This helped us to determine the best overall places to install signage,” said Barry and Flicker. “Use a flexible signage system. We are forced to change signage sometimes more than once per year. Flexible signage options are the key to changing signs efficiently and easily. We suggest applying official branding and design standards to all signage.”

With planning, institutions can develop wayfinding systems that guide clearly and confidently, without getting in the way, are easy to update and maintain, and that blend seamlessly with each unique campus brand and architecture.

Danielle Przyborowski
is a Dayton, OH-based freelance writer with experience in educational and architectural topics.

About the Author

Danielle Przyborowski is a Dayton, Ohio-based freelance writer with experience in educational and architectural topics.