Know-How: Signage

Dec. 1, 2004
Distinct and understandable signs can make a campus a more welcoming environment.

Upgrading a site with new and renovated facilities can re-energize a campus, but schools and universities won't get the most out of their improvements if students, staff and visitors can't figure out where they need to go.

A university may have buildings spread across many acres that are dotted with parking and green spaces, and intersected by streets and pedestrian paths. Inside a school building — K-12 or post-secondary — a visitor may be confronted with an array of hallways, doors and stairwells. A school may have had a coherent system of signs at one time, but the wayfinding systems may not have kept up with campus expansions.

For new students, inadequate signage can create anxiety that distracts them from their primary purpose — learning. For potential visitors curious about the attractions and opportunities that a campus may offer, a confusing wayfinding system might persuade them to avoid a campus altogether.

Many colleges have incorporated signage and wayfinding principles into their master plans so that schools can establish a system that gets people around a campus more easily and creates a positive image for a school.

“The information system on a campus reflects the image of the institution,” says the master plan for Clemson University in South Carolina. “The design, readability and consistent placement of signage on the Clemson campus are necessary factors that help people find where they need to go in an efficient and pleasant way, and thus create a positive image of the university.

“The signage inside a building is equally important,” the plan continues. “All elements, such as directories and room names and numbers, should be consistent across campus, yet appropriate to and in scale with the interior spaces and their functions.”

In its master plan, the University of Vermont spells out some of the potential benefits of a well-thought-out campus signage plan:

  • Provides a sense of place in an ever-changing academic environment.

  • Creates a welcoming environment in which people move in an orderly, logical and safe manner.

  • Builds on the landscape and architectural legacy of the campus's existing physical plant.


A cohesive wayfinding system includes the following sign types:






Source: Facilities Master Plan, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania.

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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