Why is University and College Signage So Essential?

The use of signage in universities and colleges serves two primary purposes, which together make signage an absolutely vital tool to the further education sector. Firstly is the function of signage as a component in any effective wayfinding solution. Wayfinding signage helps students, staff and visitors to navigate large campuses and individual buildings, allowing the institution to operate efficiently.

The second purpose of signage in the further education sector is as a powerful marketing tool which, if used correctly, can develop and propel the status of an educational institution to new heights. Universities and colleges face certain unique challenges since the introduction of higher tuition fees and increased competition for students over the past five years.

A coherent and strong marketing response is required to turn this situation from a hindrance into an opportunity. It goes without saying that signage is an integral component of any marketing campaign. Today we’re going to look in more detail at the functions played by university and college signage, and some of the benefits that this signage can deliver to institutions and service users alike. Read on to find out all you need to know.

Wayfinding Signage in Colleges and Universities

Helping people to orient themselves and get to their destination is one of the paramount roles played by signage in general. Most universities and colleges are large institutions, often with thousands of staff members working on research and teaching across many different disciplines. Being able to navigate around the campus and find whoever and whatever you need is essential for the effective and efficient functioning of such a huge interdisciplinary organisation.

As well as the staff employed by the institution in question, many universities and colleges host academic conferences which attract researchers from all over the world. As well as making sure that these important visitors can find their way around your campus without trouble, wayfinding signage also plays a secondary role here. These visiting academics will take back their impressions of your institution as effective, high functioning and well organised, and will likely tell anyone who asks them how their trip went too, providing valuable word-of-mouth promotion.

This helps to build the profile of your educational institution internationally, and is essentially free promotion, as this is a secondary effect of signage designed to help people find their way.

The Student as a Customer

Alongside academic staff, the lifeblood of a university or college is its students. Effective wayfinding signage systems are absolutely vital to create that all-important first impression on prospective students and their families during open days. What could be worse for an educational institution that has to take in lots of new students every year in order to survive, than lots of potential students getting lost, having a negative experience and choosing to go elsewhere?

The open day experience is a complex one. First of all, visitors need to be able to find parking. They then need to be able to get from the car park to the reception, and so on. Each step of this journey requires effective wayfinding signage, and if just one step fails, then the experience of the entire day is likely to be somewhat negative. It’s clear, then, that a well-planned wayfinding system is simply essential.

But there’s more to it than that. Not only is university and college wayfinding signage necessary, but it’s also good for customer service provision. Other sectors of the economy adopted a customer-centric outlook decades ago and American universities were the first to bring the idea of the student as a customer into the world of higher education. British universities are only just catching up, and not necessarily through choice either.

Much has changed in the sector over the past five years, from the increase in tuition fees to the lifting of the cap on student numbers. Universities are also becoming increasingly dependent on fees for their income as the government cuts research grants. Adopting a customer service outlook ensures that universities and colleges can continue to survive by attracting ample numbers of students.

Part of providing excellent customer service in an educational environment is ensuring that the experience of the customer is pain-free, easy and intuitive, and this is where wayfinding signage excels.


As well as using wayfinding signage to ensure that already-existing student-customers are satisfied, there’s the ever-present need to attract new students further down the line. This is where branded promotional signage comes in. Brands have existed in higher education for centuries, although they have only recently been recognised as such – just think of the power behind the Oxford and Cambridge University brands.

These two institutions needn’t worry, but not everyone can benefit from such powerful brand equity. Well-designed signage can remedy this problem, however. Branded university and college signage such as vinyl overlays attached to glass windows or free-standing signs could promote the institution’s achievements in student results or research. This helps to create recognition of the organisation as an educational institution which is especially useful for newer universities and colleges.

As well as raising the profile of such institutions, the presence of the brand on this signage provides an opportunity for the institution to create a unique image with personality, setting it apart from competitors. With consistent branding across all media channels, brands create a unique image because they tell a story. Particularly effective branding tells a story that viewers are inspired by or can relate to, which is easier for educational institutions than, say, multinational corporations to achieve, and it’s all made possible thanks to signage.

Final Word

With over two decades’ experience in signage, The Sussex Sign Company has the expertise to create a powerful signage solution for educational institutions, responding directly to the unique placement, goals and needs of each institution and its staff, students and visitors. Get in touch today to find out more about how we can work together, call us on 01273 417057