Signage Leads the Way to Better Student Housing

by Katie Sloan

Signage represents your property and influences resident opinions.

Is image important in the selection of student housing?  The answer is a resounding “Yes!”

Students frequently cite privacy, safety, cleanliness, Internet connectivity and amenities as important factors in their choice of housing.  They look for an experience that mirrors what they grew up with, including their own private bedrooms and bathrooms, and plenty of space. Therefore, the image of the facility to be able to deliver this type of environment becomes equally important.

That’s where effective signage can help. Signage not only provides important navigational information, it also reflects an image. A community’s signage directly impacts students’, parents’ and the public’s perception of what it is like living there.  A properly designed, clearly thought-out and carefully executed sign program is an essential element for creating an environment where students want to live.

It’s true that sign programs in student housing communities must play the important role of providing visual identification from the road, directions and other information to residents and visitors. But signage can also have a significant effect on the visual and functional presentation of student housing. An effective and cohesive signage system heightens the excitement of a vibrant residential community, while a proliferation of wordy signs in unmatched shapes, colors, materials, and typefaces creates visual clutter and confusion. Creating inviting and attractive housing, easily navigated through signage, can add to students’ positive experience, and can do the same for any visitor to the community.
Every sign has a purpose
Designing and planning an integrated system of signs for the purpose of navigation is known as wayfinding. Effective wayfinding requires that easily accessible information and direction be provided in a clear visual format using sign types that successfully accomplish established objectives.

Expert assessment can uncover signage challenges and help avoid future problems. Professional sign planners systematically identify sign types and then develop a hierarchy within each type. They list all of the facilities that need identification, and then evaluate the need for the various types of signs. The following list describes the unique sign types:

Identification signs name a facility or location. They help visitors and members of the campus community find buildings and facilities, and provide addresses for emergency personnel. Identification signs range from massive entry monuments, to identification of buildings, to objects as small as restroom door signs.

Directional signs
guide people to a facility or location. Using combinations of words and symbols, they guide people from where they are to their destination.

Informational signs provide necessary facts such as hours of operation, areas with Wi-Fi accessibility, event information and lecture schedules.

Regulatory signs establish what is and is not permitted. These “behavior influencing” signs might include stop signs, pool rules signs, and signs prohibiting skateboarding.

Making signage work for your community
A community’s visual appeal attracts potential new student residents while reinforcing a positive image for students already living there. An effective sign program supports this appeal by providing a strong first impression repeated throughout the community. A clean, appropriately designed entrance sign immediately makes a positive statement about the community. The emotional effect and sense of place that signage establishes at the front entrance can be reinforced with easy-to-use directional and regulatory signs that follow the theme of the entrance sign.

To get the maximum benefit, the signage program should be consistent with the desired image. Image repetition, size and visual contrast, the architectural design of the signs, the use of colors and logos all have a strong influence on the perception of the student housing. The designer or design team incorporates this into the master plan of signs needed in the program.

Sign location affects design as well. Viewing and site conditions impact each sign’s design solution. Local codes, zoning regulations and restrictions can play a critical part in the size, style, and location of signage.

Mapping the Way
A good signage program is more than well-designed signs containing accessible and relevant information positioned at appropriate decision points. It is visual language that creates a very accessible information system that is obvious when directions or other information is required.

Inappropriate sign design and placement causes navigation issues in unfamiliar environments. If signs are not clearly visible, or if poor copy and poor color choices make them illegible, or if inaccurate information make them confusing, then they are doing more harm than good.

Furthermore, having too many signs can be just as detrimental as having too few. Even visually appealing, consistent, relevant signage overwhelms an environment when too many signs are used.

Give visitors and residents signage information as they encounter it in their environment. Create a user-friendly program by providing points of reference identifying current location and potential destination. Upon arriving at a given destination, give detailed information about that specific area to minimize information overload.

In keeping with the “Keep It Simple” principle, minimizing sign copy helps convey meaning, adds to visual acuity and creates a more graphically pleasing sign. Simplicity of the sign copy is as important as minimizing the number of signs.

The Secret of Great Signage
A superior signage system uses key words and consistent design elements to create layers of subtle assistance. You should never have to look for a sign; it should be exactly where it is needed and it should be easy to read. It should tell students exactly what they need to know, and it should lead them effortlessly to where they want to be.

While it isn’t necessary for you to master the technicalities of signage (there are experts you can rely on for that), it is important to understand the important role signage can play and the positive impact it can have on your student housing project.

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