Show Me the Way

Campus signage programs have come a long way from the simple signs used in years past to identify individual buildings or areas within a campus. Programs today are often a key component in a college or university’s branding program and involve a range of signage solutions from variable message signs and banners to static signs for classroom and administrative buildings or athletic facilities. Developing the most efficient and cost-effective program, especially when multiple campuses are involved, requires a thorough evaluation of all locations and consensus building among numerous stakeholders.

Location, Location
Brian Pearce, director, environmental graphic design for Sasaki Associates in Boston, says that developing a signage program for multiple campuses depends on the institution’s approach. “We have some clients who want their program to be the same from campus to campus,” he says. “In other instances, stakeholders at the institution determine that all components do not need to be alike or that regional identities are preferred.”

Pearce notes that there is typically some connection between an institution’s main campus and other locations. Officials may elect to use the college or university’s colors on all locations but they may be represented in different ways, or different types and sizes of signs may be used.

The geographic location of the multiple campuses is a key consideration, according to Pearce. “An institution may have a medical center in an urban area, a main campus in a relatively suburban location, and several satellite campuses, as an example. Each of these locations has different requirements and restrictions. The design team must identify what is common between these areas and how those features can or should impact the signage program for each campus.”

Sasaki recently developed a signage program for Auburn University that impacted both the main campus and outlying areas. On the main campus, the Auburn logo and color scheme of blue and orange were used more subtly in the campus core so that the landscaping would not be overpowered. The sign colors and logo treatment are a sedate architectural bronze with a screened-back logo, with the orange reserved for the accent reveal in the side of the signs. For outlying areas, it was determined that an enhanced identity was required because those areas did not benefit from being located within the critical mass of Auburn’s main campus. The solution for these areas involved a fuller palette of the University’s identity by combining the blue and orange color scheme with the Auburn word mark to increase brand recognition.

Stakeholder Involvement
Involving the appropriate stakeholders in the development of a signage program is also critical. “The Request for Proposal provides some sense of what an institution wants to accomplish,” says Eric Schmitt, associate principal with Mitchell Associates, Wilmington, DE. “Involving the right constituents as the project moves forward is vital to developing the optimum solution.”

Stakeholders must help the design team to find the answers to the needs of each campus, including how to elevate the institution’s image, defining the admissions path, and making navigation easy for all — visitors as well as current students, faculty, and staff.

“Placemaking involves the integration of signage and landscaping while also respecting the campus’ architecture, budgetary considerations, communication requirements, and maintenance goals,” Schmitt says. “Stakeholders from individual campuses know how these elements are or should impact the signage on their campus. Careful planning and building consensus among all stakeholders, including the institution’s president, allows the design team to uncomplicate what can be complicated when it comes to signage. Since most projects are for existing campuses rather than new locations, the goal is to keep what is good and to build on what is needed to make the overall environment better.”

Mitchell Associates developed a comprehensive signage program for Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, OH, which has three campuses in both urban and suburban locations. Officials from the college elected to continue the College’s brand, including the logo, colors, and typeface, in all locations while adapting the size of all required signs based on the geographic location of each campus.

The Iowa State Solution
Iowa State University in Ames recently completed a signage program that was designed to address communication and branding goals. “Our success is built on a hierarchy of signage across campus and identifying a clear purpose and audience for each element,” says Chris Strawhacker, project manager for the University’s most recent signage project. “We know who we are communicating with and the information that each audience needs in order to make the location much stronger.”

The signage system at Iowa State uses forms, colors, and materials that are tied to the University’s identity in order to strengthen the system. This consistency benefits facilities that are not located on the University’s 550-acre main campus — there are 1,900 acres total — by providing visitors with quick recognition and comprehension.

Strawhacker notes that the implementation of a comprehensive signage project can be a significant investment at a time when budgets are tight. “Our recent improvements have been implemented in phases to manage costs and we use our signage plan as a guide to maintain consistency and to ensure success,” he says. “Many of the signage elements serve as a welcome to the University. Our main goal is to provide signage that will have the greatest impact on the University’s image, and we choose materials and construction methods that will provide the longest life with the lowest maintenance requirement. The components are integral.”

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