How to Create Effective Wayfinding Signs in Schools

Schools are large, sprawling places that can be difficult to navigate; without good signage, those who are unfamiliar with the layout can easily get lost. The most effective way to help them reach their destination is to install wayfinding signs. In this post, we’ll look at the particular needs of schools and how they can create an effective wayfinding signage system.

Why schools need wayfinding signs
Schools, especially large secondaries, have complex layouts. They have several floors, long corridors going off at tangents and external blocks away from the main buildings. As schools have grown over the years, many now have extensions, sometimes more than one, that make the layout even more confusing. Within this space, there is a multitude of different areas that people will need to find: departments, classrooms, sports and assembly halls, drama and dance spaces, canteens and cafes, admin areas, IT suites, toilet blocks, caretaking stores, reprographic suites and learning resource centres.

The belief in most schools is that after a few weeks of the new intake arriving in September, most people will be familiar enough with the building not to need wayfinding signage. However, even for these people, there are potential issues: cleaners can be allocated new areas, teachers may need to attend meetings in other departments and pupils might have a classroom change. If these are in parts of the school with which people are unfamiliar, they may still get lost.

However, it’s not just permanent members of the school community that need to find their way around the building. Parents need to find teachers on parents’ evenings, supply teachers need to get to classrooms and tradespeople need to locate the places they are carrying out repairs or installing equipment. Ofsted inspectors, too, will want to find their way around easily.

Aside from finding places within the building, another important requirement is how to find the way out in the case of an emergency. Wayfinding signage is crucial in helping people get to the appropriate emergency exits and muster points.

Solutions for schools  
A school wayfinding system has to offer a practical solution that helps staff, pupils and visitors get to the places they want to be. To do this, it has to display the relevant information in a way that is easy to understand and which gives clear directions. Getting it right requires experienced, detailed planning and a thorough understanding of the way the school functions.

To achieve this, you will need to consider the flow of the school building and the places where people have to make navigational decisions, such as in foyers or at staircases and corridor junctions. Displaying information in the right places is essential if the system is to be effective and this may call for a range of different sign types to be installed, such as ‘You are Here’ maps, wall mounted signs, ceiling hung signs and, in external spaces, upright signposts.

The information included on a sign needs to be simple to understand, using universally recognised symbols where possible, and taking into account the needs of all users. It also has to be displayed in a clear and consistent way. Clear, so that it is easy to see, and consistent, so that it becomes obvious to everyone which signs are wayfinding signs. 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 of the specific difficulties for wayfinding signage in schools is that classroom and corridor walls are often full of posters, displays and other signs all vying for attention. With such a visual overload, it is important that wayfinding signage stands out from these; they should not, therefore, be surrounded by posters for the school play or notices about not running on corridors.

Another way to make a wayfinding sign more obvious and give it more authority is to add creative elements that reflect the school’s brand, for example, by incorporating the school colours and typeface. Doing this has the additional advantage of helping extend the brand identity throughout the school building and thus, reinforces the school’s values and mission.

Choice of materials
There is a range of different materials from which wayfinding signs can be manufactured, however, in high traffic areas like school corridors, it is helpful to choose materials which are robust, long lasting and can withstand the occasional prang or marker pen mauling. Acrylic signs are a good choice, as they are able to be produced in a wide range of colours, shapes, sizes and fonts. You can even incorporate images and the school logo onto your design.

Wayfinding signs help students and staff find their way around the complex design of many school buildings. Rather than getting lost and in a panic about being late, signs help them arrive on time, feeling less stressed – and this can have a positive impact on classroom behaviour. It also makes the school more user-friendly and welcoming for visitors and when the design incorporates the school’s branding, spreads that identity and the values it promotes throughout the entire building.

If you want assistance in creating a wayfinding system for your school check out our Wayfinding Signs page.

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