Know-How: Signage

May 1, 2002
Wayfinding systems help people find what they're looking for and enhance a school's identity.

A college campus can be an intimidating place for a new arrival. Prospective students, parents, visitors and new employees must master a maze of pathways, plazas and parking lots as they try to figure out where they need to be.

How well newcomers are able to learn the lay of the land will depend on the quality of the signs on campus. But unless schools are vigilant about maintaining signs, what is meant to demystify a campus can serve to confuse and frustrate visitors.

Keeping signs current is critical. But to be even more effective, a system of signs should involve more than just sprinkling a few maps and guideposts around campus. Carrying out a comprehensive plan for signs doesn't just help people get around campus. It also can clearly define campus boundaries, establish a uniform look for a campus, and enhance a school's identity.

Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis., decided that its signage needed upgrading and formed a project team, says Steve Blodgett, director of public affairs at Lawrence and a member of the project team.

“We had a lot of existing signage dated from the early '70s,” says Blodgett. “There have been many new buildings and renovations since then.”

Lawrence hired Sasaki Associates to develop a master plan for wayfinding and exterior signage.

“Because we are a very small college, there was an assumption that people knew how to get where they were going,” says Blodgett. “We needed to better establish the physical identity of the college. We needed to delineate the campus from downtown Appleton. Where do you park? Where do you begin when you arrive on campus?”

Going through the planning process gave the university a better understanding of the importance of its signs.

“We learned that it can be an instrumental component in pedestrian safety,” says Blodgett. “It can help us improve the accessibility of campus. We've done a good job on ADA within our buildings. But we haven't done as good a job externally.”

The master plan spells out guidelines for vehicular wayfinding, building identification, pedestrian wayfinding, sign size, placement and colors, and use of university symbols.

The university will carry out the plan when it finds funding for the project, say Blodgett.



Recommended distance of vehicular freestanding signs from street curb.


Recommended setback of pedestrian signs from walkway.


Recommended height of a sign at a doorway.


Recommended orientation to roadway of sign at primary entrance to campus.


Recommended setback of campus perimeter identification signs from public right-of-way.


Recommended length of descriptions of major buildings and venues included on directional signs for motorists on campus.

Lawrence University Sign Master Plan

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