Have you ever been lost? Late for an appointment? Of course, everyone has had a feeling of doubt about the ability to navigate, frustration from the lack of information received, and concern that the mistake could cost time, money or, in some cases, safety. 

Given the scale of today’s college campus environments, administrators must take steps to help visitors avoid these feelings. In the competitive world of higher education, even the slightest negative perception can have a bearing on where families invest in their children’s future. 

Education institutions can help secure this investment by focusing on five areas: hospitality, culture, context, flexibility and user expectations. These form the foundation for an integrated wayfinding program. 

And remember, while “simple” is actually quite complex, “simple” is exactly what it should be for a visitor.

Hospitality

It all begins with a shared philosophy about how a school intends to make visitors feel welcome. On any campus, there is an intrinsic complexity that people keep in their heads: the best exit off the highway, how to skirt the athletic traffic during busy times, or which route is the favorite shortcut to the office. 

School officials need to assume that someone stepping onto a campus for the first time has none of this knowledge, so it must be shared with them throughout a visit. Information provided before, during and after time spent on campus gives an institution multiple opportunities to reach out with simple, consistent and reassuring messages. 

An integrated wayfinding system is designed primarily for a first-time visitor, be it a potential student, parent, staff member, visiting faculty or community member (an alumnus also can fall into this group if significant campus changes have occurred).

A comprehensive approach to wayfinding means that a university has made an internal commitment to “speak in one voice” to its visitors. That means the built environment will be identical, in terms of wayfinding information and logic, to the other ways that the university communicates. Building this system makes the campus more legible, understandable and therefore more hospitable to visitors.