Wayfinding Signs in educational settings – a tool to engage, enrich and inspire?

Wayfinding signage is ubiquitous in urban centres, public spaces, healthcare facilities and transportation hubs. Wayfinding systems initially served a simple function, consisting of arrows and signs to direct people towards their destination. Decades of research and evolution in wayfinding signage has led to the development of a highly integrated technology-driven discipline with an overriding focus on the user experience.

In practice, this means that, as well as simply directing people around a space or building, wayfinding systems can be used to enhance the understanding and experiences of those using them. Of course, the complexities of navigating hospitals, museums, libraries and airports mean that the basic function of wayfinding systems is still very much in demand.

However, hospitals and airports, in particular, are generally quite stressful environments. Research since the 1980s has examined how clever design and careful consideration can allow the creation of wayfinding systems that contribute to a sense of calm and security, helping otherwise stressed patients or passengers to relax a little.

In this article, we’ll look at the potential for wayfinding signage to add value to another setting – that of educational institutions such as schools, colleges and universities. Can wayfinding systems be used to assist education, to engage, enrich and inspire? What other benefits could the implementation of a comprehensive and holistic wayfinding system bring to an educational institution? Read on to uncover the answers to these questions and more.

The basics of wayfinding

In order to answer the above questions, we’ll need to start by looking at what wayfinding is and how it works. Systems and devices to help people orientate and direct themselves around unfamiliar spaces can take many forms, from maps and signs to digital displays and touchscreen panels. Innovations have been created over the years, including coloured lines along the corridors of hospitals to lead patients to different departments. More recently, scannable QR codes have been employed, allowing visitors to download interactive maps to their phones.

The essential aim is the same, regardless as to the form that a specific wayfinding system takes. Whenever someone enters a space for the first time, they’re faced with decisions. They may know what their destination is – for example, the office of the regional manager – and might even know where it is in the building, perhaps the fifth floor. The person probably won’t have any idea how to get from their present location to their desired location, and this is the challenge that wayfinding seeks to solve.

Wayfinding systems do this by breaking the journey into a series of points or nodes. These nodes can be used to keep the user of the system on track. Nodes are created at appropriate intervals throughout the journey when a decision must be made in order to provide information to inform that decision. For example, in the journey to the regional manager’s office, wayfinding signage will be required at the reception desk, at the lifts on both the ground floor and fifth floor, and perhaps some corridor signage pointing to the office itself.

Wayfinding is therefore a physical form of spatial problem solving, answering the three questions of ‘where am I?’, ‘where do I need to go?’ and ‘how do I get there?’ Whilst the theory behind wayfinding may sound complex, a well-designed and effective wayfinding system should be unobtrusive and aim to answer these three questions as efficiently as possible.

Wayfinding in educational institutions

However, this is not all that wayfinding systems have to offer. Correctly employed, they can be used to enhance the user experience of any space. Consider, a museum or art gallery. Each floor of these buildings holds a specially planned exhibition, curated by professionals to educate and entertain. Wayfinding signage can be used to ensure that visitors follow carefully structured paths and don’t miss any exhibits.

The same applies in educational institutions. Universities, in particular, tend to be based on sprawling campuses consisting of many buildings and facilities. Regular users will likely have certain areas where they habitually work, study and relax, but will require directions to find any other part of the institution when required. Therefore, in the context of regular users, wayfinding systems assist inter-departmental communication, delivering a far better interconnected academic institution with efficiency benefits across the board.

Another regular feature of universities is a high volume of first time visitors. In the case of prospective students, wayfinding systems are a critical element in making those all-important impressions when they arrive for open days. Not only will it help them to move speedily and effectively around the campus, but well-designed signage leaves the impression that the university is properly cared for and looked after.

The same applies to academic visitors from other universities. Most academic institutions regularly host conferences attracting a variety of people; newcomers and repeat visitors alike. This category of wayfinding users also benefit from improved efficiency whilst moving around campus, and they’ll take back this excellent impression of the campus with them. Additionally, by including your branding on the signs, you can ensure a high level of brand familiarity and recognition.

Even smaller institutions, such as schools, require effective wayfinding in order to function optimally. Wayfinding in this context is necessary to help children, who are potentially vulnerable if they lose their way, to stay on track. Knowing that they can orient themselves and easily locate a responsible adult in the event of an emergency can provide a sense of security and safety for pupils, teachers and parents alike.

At The Sussex Sign Company, we have the expertise to assist you in designing, fabricating and installing inspirational wayfinding systems to enrich and enhance the lives of students, teachers and visitors, helping them to engage with each other and their surroundings more instinctively. Get in touch to see how we can help you today. Call 01273 417057