The Surprising Importance of Wayfinding, Placemaking, Branding in Education

There are few things in life quite like your college experience. It begins with selecting which institution you will trust will provide you with the best chances for your success in life.

As students and parents traverse this path and gather the data needed to make this monumental decision, many sources of information are available to them. There is the reputation of the school… what you read about in the media. There is the school’s website and other marketing materials. There are reports from people you know who have attended the institution.

Each has a story about what it would be like to be accepted to, attend, and graduate from a particular school.

Yet the most powerful story available is the EXPERIENCE of visiting the school and seeing one’s self-growing and thriving within it. And that EXPERIENCE begins with that very first school visit. As students make their way onto campus, through the gateway to their future, they begin to build impressions of that school. What people see, hear, feel, and smell all begin to tell them a story of that place… and their place within it.

Successful administrators know that the intentional telling of the story of their school is the difference between gaining students or losing them to other institutions. When the students and their families experience the physical and energetic space incongruent with the excellence within, that weighs heavily upon their decision. What may be new information to them is that these Wayfinding, Placemaking, and Branding elements play an important role in student success.

Data, Stakeholders, Inclusion, and Consensus-Building:

The first step to telling any story, let alone beginning any project, is the gathering of all pertinent data from the varied key stakeholders. Valued voices, opinions, expertise, and perspectives… all need to be engaged and heard before any project commences.

Once these often disparate viewpoints are gathered, the data is sorted, analyzed, and honed into a cohesive plan upon which consensus is built.

We find that this process of inclusion, gathering, and refining information is crucial in all of our projects by ensuring that everyone is included, heard, and acknowledged. This also aids in the buy-in by all in the successful completion of the project.

Branding:

Telling the authentic story of your institution, creating a strong bond between students and faculty alike, and forging a powerful community centered around a common mission. Once created, that branding/identity… that story is expressed across the entire campus, which has grown… sprawled over decades, unifying independent buildings and spaces with conflicting themes and stories.

It is expressed online and in promotional materials to further tell the story of the past, present, and future for your community. This identity… this unified mission… continues well into the future as those who matriculate proudly claim their affinity to their school.

Wayfinding:

Common sense tells us that a clear wayfinding system, which easily and concisely directs us to the campus, to the right parking location, and through the campus to our desired destination, reduces stress while increasing positive visitor experience. Many studies have shown that a well-conceived and executed Wayfinding plan creates an environment that fosters trust and comfort by reducing confusion and stress, thus pre-framing the visitor’s experience as positive.

Wayfinding is much more than creating and installing signs. It is meticulously identifying and mapping all possible visitor paths and touch-points and creating a system that effortlessly guides them from where they are to wherever they wish to be.

When done well, Wayfinding generates one of the most effective ROI (Return on Investment) with stealth and serendipity… hiding in plain sight.

Placemaking:

What is the atmosphere… the mood you want your students to experience?

Placemaking is intentionally curating and sculpting a place into an environment meant to attract, retain, and delight a certain audience. Placemaking sets the tone for current students and attracts future generations to make that all-important 2-4-year commitment.

A campus is a community. Within that community are many spaces… each with its unique identity. Within the overarching theme of the school, there are many smaller enclaves, each with its own energy. Crafting those experiences and bringing them to life requires the art and skill of many different disciplines.

Gateways and Landmarks:

Look at the myriad of graduation photos online. Most of them include the graduates posing in front of a gateway or other school landmark. These monuments are symbols. They represent the rites of passage of the student and an indelible shaper of their identity. The more elements of identity that are available to your students and faculty, the more powerful affinity they have for their school.

These landmarks and gateways are an essential part of a student’s positive school experience.

Whether it is a two-year college, a community college, a four-year university, or grad school, Wayfinding, Placemaking, and Branding powerfully enriches the student learning environment, creates lifelong memories, and effectively attracts and retains students by creating a community of those with a shared mission, values and experiences which last far beyond their school tenure.

For more than 30 years, through our studios in Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, and Shanghai, Selbert Perkins Design has created some of the most successful and iconic projects around the globe.

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