Students, Faculty, Staff and City Work to Improve Wayfinding Signage on Kent Campus

Return to Issue of March 30, 2009

Photo by Jeff Glidden

The Wayfinding Committee examined signage throughout the Kent Campus.

For new students and visitors, campus can be a little overwhelming with more than 100 buildings covering almost 900 acres of land. But, for more than a year, a committee represented by various campus departments and the city of Kent have been working to make finding one's way on campus easier.

For four semesters, visual communication design associate professor David Middleton has overseen students' research and assessment of the university's wayfinding system. Wayfinding involves the user's orientation and understanding of a place to find one's way to a destination.

In the fall of 2007, Middleton instructed students in a class called Special Topics: University Wayfinding. The class learned from experts and developed research through use of surveys and field testing to examine how people get around on campus. The study of various district models was a big part of the research course.

"Students thought the class was practical because they made assumptions and then tested them," Middleton says. "The class was an opportunity to gain good research experience, especially hearing from expert speakers. And the class format gave us a working model for future classes and research."

The research from the class supported the Wayfinding Committee's efforts in determining new methods of wayfinding.

Michael Bruder, director of design and construction for the university, explains that the university's wayfinding system includes the building signs, vehicular signs, gateway signs and maps. He says that the vehicular signs, in particular, were quite confusing to visitors.

Middleton says that the wayfinding committee examined every sign on campus. Each sign was reviewed for a number of items, such as the font size, typography and color coding. He says that just by making a few changes to the font and colors, legibility can be greatly improved.

Developing the proper naming conventions and determining which destinations to include on each directional sign are likewise critical. Both of those choices are particularly important, Middleton concludes, with vehicular wayfinding, since individuals have very little time to read a sign and make a decision.

According to Bruder, the new signs will feature building names, rather than listing departments. Additionally, there will be a slot left open on the signs where event listings can be added.

Middleton says the signs will still comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations. The ADA regulates, among other things, visual standards such as letter size, color contrast and sign location. Some buildings on campus, such as the Kent Student Center, Library and Kiva, which have never had signs before, will have signs installed.

"There’s really a sense of safety and security when you know your way around," Middleton says. "We want to look at how we help the uninitiated find their way so they'll keep coming back."

For the remainder of the semester, Middleton will work with three students: Aimee Crane and Kim Hall, visual communication design majors with a three-dimensional graphic concentration, and Bob Keleman, a visual communication design graduate student. The students will continue to focus on the subject of wayfinding from a pedestrian perspective, which includes directional signage and new orientation maps on campus.

Bruder says the Wayfinding Committee hopes to get the signs completed before the spring semester ends.

By Lindsay Kuntzman

Return to Issue of March 30, 2009

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