Project of the Month: Pierce College

Creating Wayfinding Symmetry Across Two Campuses


We recently had the opportunity to work with Pierce College on improving their wayfinding signage across their two campuses in Lakewood and Puyallup. This was an exciting opportunity and challenge for us that we were extremely eager to tackle. The multi-campus component required us to take into account two separate environments and determine a solution that not only was customized to fit each campus individually but maintained an element of symmetry between the two. We wanted to make sure that when a student, faculty member or visitor stepped foot on either campus they were supported with the same level of branded wayfinding to make their experience as easy and comforting as possible.

The need for Pierce College's new signage was sparked by an expansion project at both campuses as well as an update to their overall branding, which included some color alterations. As any business owner probably knows, even the slightest adjustment to your branding guidelines requires a significant amount of time and effort to realign all of your previously branded items to the new look and feel. Not only do you have to change up the look on items like your website, social media and even branded stationary, but you also have to update everything at your physical location. Any inconsistencies throughout any of your operation or communication channels can result in a negative customer experience and compromise efforts to establish and maintain brand loyalty.

The project as a whole required us to design, build and install 7 signs on the Lakewood campus and 11 signs on the Puyallup campus. Each sign took on the Pierce College branding to maintain a consistent look and feel across each campus. The structure of each of the 18 signs was pretty similar in that they were all non-illuminated freestanding directional signage, but a few had a custom and user-friendly map on it to bring the entirety of the campus into perspective at important checkpoints throughout the campus's walkways.

Creating a consistent and effective wayfinding package for a campus may seem like a relatively basic sign package but it's extremely important to get it right. It's one of those elements that if done wrong then it will be very noticeable and cause a lot of frustration for visitors. A somewhat timely example of this (sorry for the personal short story here but hey! stories are fun) is how schools setup their gyms for voting. Although this does not require permanent day to day wayfinding signage, it's still important to herd everyone in the right direction.

A Little Wayfinding Goes a Long Way

Now to my story...I recently moved to a new area so I had to find out where I needed to vote for the recent election. You know, the one that got a little bit of media attention leading up to and after it...(don't worry, I'm not going to dive into political views here!).

Like a lot of areas, voting was to be held at the local high school's gym. Fortunately, I had already been to this gym from back in my high school glory days so I knew where it was and didn't think for one minute there would be any issues when I arrived. Well...I was wrong.

It all started when I was driving up to the school to find some parking. As I was pulling into the primary entrance, which does connect to the gym eventually, I caught a glimpse of a little sign mixed in with all of the candidates "vote for me" signs. Mind you, this was mid-turn so any impulsive adjustments on my part would have lead to some unnecessary off-roading adventures.

The sign read "Voting Entrance, Next Right". Not only was this sign tiny but it used a red, white and blue color scheme. At first, this may seem appropriate given the circumstances but guess what color scheme basically every candidate's campaign signs are...yup, red, white and blue. So although the color scheme matched up with the theme of the day, the lack of contrast really made it difficult to notice while driving. And for the record, before we start questioning my awareness (which would be fair), I was not the only one to do this as I noticed others doing the same thing before and after me. 

Now that I've turned myself around and got back on the main road to make my way to the "fancy" second entrance I was already a little annoyed but wasn't too worried about it. There was plenty of parking so I pulled right in and made my way to the gym door that takes you directly inside the gym. To the left of the door there was a sign saying "Voting Entrance" with an arrow pointing to the right, as though it was pointing to the door that would take you right inside. So I walk up to open it and the door is locked. All that I can think is "what the hell, did I forget how to open a door?". After pulling and pushing a couple times, I eventually saw a person through the door's window pointing to my right, hinting that I need to keep walking. And sure enough, I did.

I made my way around the corner of the gym and had to keep walking to an entrance of the school, rather than directly into the gym. Finally I reached a sign at a door that said "Vote Here", so I had to be on the right path. It also helped that people were pouring in and out of this door so it was clearly the right spot. Apparently, they wanted to get people to go in this way so that they could corral us a bit more inside before making our way into the gym.

And last but not least, once I got into the gym they had about 10 lines that were pretty long. So long in fact, people with less than stellar vision (like myself) couldn't see the hand written pieces of paper indicating what line you're in. So I walked up past the lines to get a closer look at the signage all the while getting mean mugged as though I'm trying to cut the line...finally I am able to read the signs and they are breaking people up by what your last name begins with. This definitely made sense but it would have been nice to have some signage at the beginning of the line rather then only at the end. Also, since we were at a school, maybe take a few moments in the library to print off some letters instead of handwriting it with a pen on a piece of computer paper (breathe Tanner, breathe...). As I stood in that line, every person within an ear shot that got behind me was either going up to check the line sign headers themselves or asking people around them what the lines are for.

As you can see, if they would have simply followed some best practices when it comes to wayfinding signage it would have been a much better experience and less stressful. At the end of the day, in this situation it wasn't that big of a deal because I knew it would be a while before I had to do it again but if it's a prospective student or parent of a student evaluating a college then causing any level of stress or frustration could end up setting a negative tone for their whole experience right from the get go.

Wayfinding is about establishing a level of comfort for your visitors. If you're not able to get that right then you're at risk of creating a negative customer experience, which can of course lead to loss of business. It may seem simple but it's often times forgotten. I'm sure we can all think of a time or two where we went somewhere and got a little turned around due to the lack of signage. It's not a huge deal that will leave people boycotting your business but it's enough to cause some frustration and that is sometimes all it takes for a potential customer or in this case a student, to choose another place to go. We're glad that Pierce College understands the importance of wayfinding and allowed us to be a part of this important piece of their expansion project!

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