University campuses are like mini towns. Far more than buildings where people go to study and research, they also have accommodation blocks, management suites, health and welfare services, student unions, sport and recreational facilities, refectories, restaurants and shops.
All these places can be scattered across sites that are sometimes hundreds of acres in size and have huge internal spaces (the University of Manchester has almost 900,000 sqm of floor space and over 50,000 rooms).
How then do you help the tens of thousands of students and staff find their way around? The answer is wayfinding signage and, in this post, we’ll look at the particular needs of universities and explain how best to create a campus wayfinding signage system.
Why universities need wayfinding signs
Aside from their enormous size and the diverse range of buildings they house, university campuses have complex layouts. Most of our universities are long established, which means they will have grown organically over the years. Internally, too, large university buildings are challenging to navigate; multi-story and multi-purpose, they can be bewildering for those unfamiliar with their layouts.
The biggest issues are likely to happen at the start of the academic year when there are not just freshers getting lost but those in other years who are trying to find new rooms and venues. However, even when regular attendees have become familiar with their new routes, there are still many visitors, contractors and new staff who will need help to navigate the site.
Even more important than helping people find their way in, is helping them find their way out in an emergency. Wayfinding signage is crucial in getting people to emergency exits and muster points quickly.
Solutions for university campuses
A campus wayfinding system needs to provide a practical solution that helps staff, students and others get to the places they want to be. This requires it to display pertinent information in a way that is simple to understand and which provides clear, easy to follow directions. Ensuring this is done effectively on such a complex site requires experience of how wayfinding systems work, together with detailed planning and a comprehensive understanding of how the campus functions.
Planning the system demands knowing how traffic flows through the campus and making note of the places where navigational decisions need to be made, such as the junctions and exits in external routeways, in foyers, at staircases and at corridor junctions, etc. Displaying information in the right places is critical and this may require the use of different sign types, such as ‘You are Here’ maps, upright signposts, wall mounted and ceiling hung signs.
The information placed on a sign needs to be simple to understand at a glance, where possible using universally recognisable symbols that can make it much easier for international students who are not overly familiar with English. Wayfinding also needs to consider those students with special needs, such as using symbols which indicate wheelchair-friendly routes or providing Braille signage.
Campus wayfinding systems also need consistent signage as this helps people easily recognise which signs are for wayfinding. Where inconsistency occurs, people can easily miss a sign and end up getting lost. This means that all wayfinding signs should have the same design, use the same typeface and colouring and, where possible, have the same shape.
One potential difficulty for wayfinding signage on campuses is that walls are often used to display other information. Where wall hung signage has to compete for attention, the visual overload can mean it is less effective – people just don’t see it for everything else around. it is important, therefore, that wayfinding signage is given priority and nearby displays relocated so they do not camouflage it.
A way to increase the visual impact of a wayfinding sign is to add elements of the university brand, for example, using the university colours or typeface. Adding these has the additional benefit of extending the university’s identity throughout the campus and in doing so, reinforces its core values.
Best materials for campus signage
There is a growing range of materials from which wayfinding signs can be constructed, however, on busy campuses, it is best to pick materials that are robust and durable. Acrylic signs are a good and affordable solution, as they can be manufactured in a wide range of colours, shapes, sizes and fonts and can incorporate images into the design.
University wayfinding signs help staff, students and others navigate the complex external and internal places on today’s large campuses. It makes the campus more welcoming and user-friendly and helps people arrive at the right place at the right time so that lectures, seminars, meetings and other events go ahead as scheduled without disruption.
If you want assistance in creating a wayfinding system for your university or college campus, check out our Wayfinding Signs page.