Five Important Considerations for a College Signage Program

February 4, 2022

Whether in Facilities, Design & Construction, Marketing & Communications or Finance & Administration, before embarking upon a new signage project at your college or university, we recommend taking these five considerations into account.

1. Know Your Audience
One of the comments we’ve heard from some schools over the years regarding signage is “Our students and faculty are very familiar with our campus, so wayfinding is not that important”.
While it’s true that upper-level students and tenured faculty may know their way around campus, those are certainly not the only audiences to consider with a signage and wayfinding program. What about prospective students or new students? Students arriving from another country? Alumni who may not have been on campus in many years? Potential donors and other important visitors? Ignoring these groups and not having an effective wayfinding program in place can result in some pretty frustrated folks trying to navigate your campus, and can potentially lead to decreased tuition revenues and donations.
2. Brand & Image
This one seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised.

Signs often make the first impression upon visitors to a campus, and they have a direct impact on a school’s image.  Just like you might worry about having surgery at a hospital that has old, deteriorated signs, prospective students touring a college may question the quality of the education, the safety and/or the overall experience of a school with poor or dated signage.

Signs communicate brand and image 24/7, so why not use them to help convey an image on par with the quality of education your school has to offer. Especially in a competitive environment, a well-designed, high-quality sign program can help set one school apart from another.
3. ADA Compliance 
It doesn’t really matter how good a sign program may look, if it’s not compliant with all ADA requirements, a school can open itself up to a lot of liability and expense. And not to mention, those requirements are in place for a good reason!

Before embarking on a signage project, make sure you partner with a company that has expertise with all of the latest ADA rules and regulations with regards to signage. Even for those of us in the industry for years, the requirements can be quite complex, and there’s  no shortage of grey area. Exact placement of signs, inter-character spacing, compliant vs. non-compliant fonts, color contrast, shape of the Braille dots, copy size, etc. Lots of details to navigate!   
4. Updatability
It’s no secret that change is prevalent on most college and university campuses. Professors come and go and there always seems to be new construction underway. Signs have to accommodate all of this change, so it’s essential to have a modular solution that’s easily updatable, both for exterior and interior environments.

For the most frequently changing interior signs (nameplates generally), we recommend considering a sign system that enables the updates to be laser-printed by the school in-house. For those not familiar with some of the higher-quality sign systems available today, there may be a fear that signs with paper displays will look cheap. While that may have been the case in years past, there are some well-designed sign systems on the market today where paper inserts definitely don’t look like paper. These types of solutions will greatly facilitate the process of updating an interior sign program and will save the school lots of money as well.
5. Ownership
Perhaps the most important yet most overlooked consideration for colleges undertaking a signage project is how the sign program is going to be managed after the initial installation. Who is going to take ownership of the sign program campus-wide to make sure everything is kept up to date and standards are followed? If the school doesn’t place value in the ongoing sign program management, none of the other four considerations will matter. Over time, faculty and staff will take it upon themselves to implement piecemeal signage updates. Or, an architect or designer involved with a new construction will be left to design signage that’s inconsistent with campus standards. In either case, the overall quality and design consistency that’s so critical for an effective wayfinding program will be lost. To avoid this and to protect the initial signage investment, schools must have a plan in place for ongoing sign program management. Someone must take ownership!