With schools becoming ever larger academies and centres of learning, the need for signage has never been greater, but are all types of sign appropriate in learning establishments or are some types better than others?
Schools are akin to massive office blocks, with sprawling areas coming off central hubs and outlying areas that serve as overflow learning areas. There might be some parts like assembly halls, sports halls and restaurants that are common and become well known, while other parts might be less well used and harder for many to find. While schools might have started off with some kind of logical build, as they expand – as almost every school in the country is doing to cope with growing needs – additional parts might not be so easy to find, and might not even be on the same site!
Additionally, the users of the signs will have a huge range of understanding and abilities, and may not have English as their first language. Plainly, while simple word-based signs may have a lot of use in many environments, they might not be the best option for schools. Of course, when planning their signage needs – or even if they are expanding and rethinking their strategy – schools could take a leaf out of the one establishment with which they share a great deal; hospitals.
Small, ‘cottage’, hospitals are on the decline as budgets are transferred to larger, centralised units, and these are growing at an alarming rate, making navigation harder. Hospitals learned early on that pictorial signs go a long way to helping people navigate, particularly if the hospital can be split up into colour-coded areas, helping people get to the areas they need to be in in a macroscopic way, but that is only half the story. Once in an area, a user needs to navigate down in a more microscopic way, and to locate specific rooms.
Ideally, this can be dealt with by a combination of colour-coordination following the major colour scheme and text sign, but with the possibility of change happening, fixed signs may not be the best idea. Many hospitals – and a growing number of schools – are turning towards either jigsaw or folio sign systems, as these allow for rapid change if required. Both of these types also allow for multiple entries, so signs could be in multiple languages and even have a braille part too, so that all students are included.
But of course, technology tends to lead the way in these matters, and there is an increasing use of ‘Talky’ and Totem signs with interactive video options to help students find their way around increasingly complex school campuses. Both of these sign types are ideal since they can provide an increasingly complex amount of tailored information in an array of languages and touch features.
Schools are very much like hospitals in the range of clients they serve and the sizes of their establishments, and what hospitals have been doing (mostly) well for years can be a lesson for schools. The technology is out there, so there is no excuse anymore.