For several months now, colleagues from around the University, led by the Estates Department, have been examining how we can improve internal signage within the Main Building.
The need for the project has arisen from a need to address a few issues with the existing signage:
It is hard to use,
Inconsistent in visual terms,
Wrong in a lot of places!
It should be more in keeping with new visual identity.
With those factors in mind, we have been working with a company called Endpoint, who specialise in this kind of thing. I’m pleased to be able to share some of our decisions with you.
Solution to navigation problems
The difficulty in navigating the building is partly down to the signs themselves, but partly due to the sheer size of the building and the identikit appearance of the corridors. To address this, we have decided to split the building into four.
The North and South Wings remain, but what we currently call the Main Building will now be divided into West and East. We may well lose the term ‘wings’. We haven’t really decided what descriptor to give them, in fact, it might almost be better to not call them anything other than North, South, West and East, rather than get bogged down in semantics. But for the purposes of this article, let’s call them ‘quadrants’.
Please note that no room numbers will be changed, only the prefix. We appreciate this will take a bit of getting used to, but in the longer term, it will benefit our visitors and new starters.
Each quadrant has its own colour. These have been selected from the colour palette in the corporate guidelines and have been checked for colour blindness issues. The purpose for the colour coding will be made clear later in the article.
Before we get as far as the ‘quadrants’, there will be a couple of freestanding directory signs in the lower foyer, which will look something like the above.
The intention is that these directories will help the receptionists to direct people appropriately, and will mean that visitors can potentially find their own way to their destination in off-peak times.
I mentioned earlier that one of our objectives for this project is to make the building more colourful and more vibrant. One of the main ways in which we will achieve this – whilst also helping with navigation – is to have gateways each time someone moves from one ‘quadrant’ to another. See below for examples:
Hopefully these images show that the project will brighten up our corridors. More importantly – they will help visitors to negotiate the quirky way in which our North and South Wings are on different levels to the Main Building (in current terminology).
I should say at this point that we did explore the option of using inspirational images as part of this scheme. You may remember me requesting your ideas, a few weeks back. Many thanks to those of you that sent in suggestions. I really appreciate you taking the time to do it. In the end, though, we decided that it wasn’t working visually so we won’t be going ahead with the idea at this time. Apologies to anyone who was looking forward to seeing their hero on our walls!
Directional signs are obviously at the heart of this project. They are probably the most important element, and also the most complex. Our philosophy for these signs is to start vague and get more specific, so in other words, from the Main Entrance, a visitor might be directed to a quadrant and floor, nothing more, but by the time they get to that area, the directional signs will be more specific, enabling them to find the exact room they are looking for.
The main advantage of doing it this way is that if departments move, or change name, we limit the number of signs we need to replace. We believe that it would be a maximum of two, each time there was a change of that nature.
As you can see from the images below, the directional signs correspond to the quadrant the visitor is in. An additional complication is that a visitor may be in a ‘neutral’ area, if they have come up via the ‘D’ or ‘H’ lift or staircase. The neutral colour chosen is grey, but the directional arrows correspond to the quadrant they point to:
You’ll notice that the image on the right is a corner piece. This is integral to the design because most of our staircases and lifts actually open onto a corner. This style of signage allows us to have signs that point in both directions which is particularly useful given the layout of our buildings.
The project also includes the development of directional signage for lifts, and temporary holders for posters – currently posters tend to be of a poor quality and this reflects badly on the University.
As you’re probably aware, budgets for 2009/10 are still being finalised, however we are confident that this project will be able to go ahead as it falls within the provisional budget. Assuming we get the go-ahead, the signage will be implemented over the Summer in time for the start of next term.
Beyond that, we will be looking at signage for things like floor level info within stairwells, disabled information signs and general information signs. We also need to think about how this style of signage can be transferred across to other areas of the University, such as the new residences.
Words by Chris Harrison