External Signage for Universities

External Signage Considerations for Universities

How universities can maximise branding impact.


Signage at universities – in fact any place of learning – has two basic functions; to help people navigate the area safely and effectively and to promote the brand image of the institution. Both purposes are important, as universities become increasingly commercial entities and aim to increase their footfall through greater student numbers, many of whom may not have English as their primary language. Universities need to demonstrate that they are sufficiently student-centred by offering adequate signage that engages and inspires first-time visitors and on-going users of the space.

Navigational and Directional Signs

Given that university campuses are often expanding their property footprint, and new facilities and buildings get added as investment increases, so does the volume of visitors. Wayfinding and navigation become increasingly important to help with the flow of a space.  In order to ensure easy wayfinding and navigation it is key that signage that isn’t confusing and should primarily be composed of building unique identifiers (names, numbers, etc) as well as include arrows, symbols and indicators, such as 'you are here' style maps that explicitly tell a person where they are. Furthermore, there is great benefit in using a colour coding system in which certain groups of building – such as the administration blocks – can be fitted with signs of a specific colour, helping students to find the places that that need to go to. This can also be extended to the different teaching facilities, student accommodation and services, sports halls, and leisure areas.

Brand Image

With social media giving students visual access to the look and feel of the campus from all corners of the globe, branding at universities is becoming an increasingly important influencer for students. Ensuring that the university brand is advertised sufficiently helps to attract students. Unlike navigational and safety signs, the brand image offers the university an opportunity to experiment with colours and design. Whilst the sign design will need to follow the basic university branding, there should be scope and flexibility to include messages that attract students. Brand image has four basic functions:

- Your signage becomes your brand and helps students identify you amongst other universities, regardless of where they are in the world.

- Advertising and marketing. In the high-pressure world of higher education, every university needs to advertise their courses and show potential students what they offer, not only in terms of coursework and career paths, but also from the point of view of social life and student facilities, which are just as important as the learning.

- People tend to gravitate towards - or recommend - products and brands that they are familiar with, and that applies to universities just as much as it does consumer brands. Advertising works, and without it, commercial ventures like universities would see reduced revenues and investment.

- Key to a university’s credibility and earning potential is its need to stand out against rivals and this is where branding can make a huge impact. A certain city may have more than one university, but they may not be comparable. Branding differentiation makes sure that the best universities can set themselves apart from others in the area.

Safety Signage

It goes without saying that safety is paramount in educational spaces and with many non-English speaking students arriving to join UK educational institutions, ensuring that they remain safe requires well defined and explicit signage. Safety signage must conform to The Health & Safety Regulations 1996, ensuring that the risks and graphics depicted is easily understood by users of the signs.

External signage at universities is more than just a notification of its name; it is an essential commercial marketing tool that sets the institution aside from its rivals.