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What Makes Effective School Signage Design?

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27 May 2022

When people consider signage, many immediately think of its commercial applications within retail and entertainment spaces. But signage isn’t only a means to sell products – it also has a vital role to play in public life, benefiting sectors such as transport, health and education. 

Effective school signage in educational institutions such as schools, universities and academies serves a quiet but indispensable function. We (or indeed the young people attending these institutions) may not consciously acknowledge how much signage informs the educational space, but it really is everywhere, fulfilling several different requirements from wayfaring to health and safety. 

Educational facilities of every kind see a large number of people make their way around the premises every day, whether that’s groups of lively kids chasing each other down primary school hallways or dedicated scholars on their way across campus to the University library. For institutions large or small, school signage design must achieve a variety of goals, while also adhering to a cohesive design language that makes understanding its intention as easy as possible for all users of the space. 

So what are the key requirements that school signage must accomplish in order to be successful? In our experience of bringing conceptual design ideas for signage to life in educational institutions and beyond, we have identified the factors most important in a school signage project, which we explore below. 

Aiding wayfaring 

The ease with which students, staff and visitors can find their way around a school building (or collection of buildings) is critical in the creation of a safe, navigable space where it is easy to organise a rota of learning. 

Planning the ideal path through the institution and implementing thoughtful wayfaring signage can create an atmosphere where the school, college or campus feels immediately familiar and welcoming, enhancing the user experience and minimising any sense of intimidation or confusion which may affect students attending the school for the first time. 

This usability can be particularly important in making visitors feel at home and confident in choosing that university or school for themselves or their children. Wayfaring signage can also help children to learn, with opportunities for infant and primary schools to teach small children useful navigation skills, such as their left from right, or the areas of their school in relation to points on a compass. 

Promoting health and safety 

Educational institutions are required by law to meet certain health and safety requirements, and in an environment where large amounts of children are going to be learning and playing every day, health and safety is arguably even more important than usual.

Sharing information such as what to do in the event of a fire, who to contact in an emergency and the location of first aid kits is important all the way from nursery school to higher education, and it’s important that this information is understandable to people whatever their cultural background. 

Signage needs to be used in any specific areas that represent a risk to safety, for example, in Design and Technology classrooms where machinery such as table saws may be used, or swimming pools where there are risks of slips and trips. But in primary and secondary school settings it can also serve to communicate information that helps children learn how to conduct themselves safely in general life. 

This may include signs reminding children not to rush down the stairs, using a tissue when they sneeze and tips on how to care for each other, such as reporting to a teacher if they witness any bullying. 

Appealing to its audience 

School signage should take into account the age of its audience, with signage manufacturers adapting their messaging for staff, visitors and students, while still maintaining coherence across signage design as a whole. 

Schools for young children, in particular, have to create a balance of more formal signage which welcomes parents and visitors to the school, while creating a fun environment with plenty of bright and engaging signage to spark curiosity in the young minds learning there. 

University campuses may similarly try to inspire their (albeit far older) students while serving the more everyday needs of wayfaring and information sharing, perhaps by highlighting the achievements of successful alumni or celebrating the subjects on offer. As certain universities are historic institutions, signage can also help to draw attention to the history of the buildings and help students feel part of a long and proud tradition. 

Communicating values

School signage plays an important role in communicating the values, culture and ethos of the institution by creating a visually impactful statement with signage. Thoughtful choices in fonts, colours, materials and messaging can help educational institutions to send a clear point about who they are and what they stand for. 

The medium of school signage can also help institutions live up to their values and commitments, such as promoting inclusivity. The use of Braille in signage, for example, allows visually impaired students to experience a building more confidently, while including other languages in signs can help international students or new arrivals to the UK feel more at home and accepted. 

If you are interested in learning more about school and educational signage, and how the expert team at Links Signs can help you, we are always happy to chat

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