campus signage design

How Campus Signage Design Can Make or Break Your Student Acquisition Rate

Published on: August 20, 2019

To remain competitive, colleges and universities need to engage an increasingly broad pool of students through marketing. Your own campus may have already hired a marketing professional and earmarked significant funds to develop a branded image. But, what if all that time and money for marketing, is not being directed at the most important opportunity for increasing your student acquisition numbers? 

To stand out among the competition, your school must focus on that all-important step occasion where students decide to go with your school: the on-campus visit. Campus signage design is likely the first impression that visiting students and their parents will get, so is a critical communication touchpoint for your visual brand strategy

Students today are very brand-aware and they expect their school to have an identity they can align themselves with. By establishing a branded signage program, you can communicate institutional pride and leave a marked impact on prospective students.  

Keeping Up By Branding Your Campus Signage Design 

Touring students will have a snap impression of your school which stays with them through their decision-making about which school to ultimately attend. Your overall campus signage design program, which incorporates everything from graphics and logos to wayfinding and regulatory signage, must be both functional and aesthetically appealing to ensure a positive experience for the students.  

The risks are high if you don’t have an engaging campus signage design program in place. If wayfinding is poor, for instance, students may view your institution as unorganized and lackadaisical. With no branding, your school could have an institutional aura which makes it appear cold and unwelcoming. Even worse, dated signage and graphics gives students the impression that your curriculum and other offerings are as well. 

To avoid these pitfalls, you can look to the examples of how other universities leverage campus signage to create an inviting atmosphere for potential incoming students;

Implement a Master Sign Program to create brand cohesion 

Signage should be mapped out in advance, so it becomes part of an overall program. This way, individuals who come to your campus for the first time will easily orient themselves and find the places they need. You can also use this wayfinding signage to direct prospective students to the high points at your university and put your best foot forward—while enveloping them in branded messaging that sets your campus apart. 

CSU Chico leaders understood that creating a sense of cohesion and unity in sign design is vital in both establishing branding and easing wayfinding. The school went through significant expansion over three decades and needed to update their signage to reflect that. Their goal was to create one cohesive system that was clearly CSU Chico, to both unify their brand on campus and ease wayfinding for students unfamiliar with the landmarks. 

campus signage design

The university completed a full audit of existing signage to pinpoint what could be carried forward and what should change. Based on that audit, they distinguished multiple zones to map their existing signage and focus on areas of high need. Then, they established a master sign program that ensured all zones had the appropriate signage – and that they could expand on it as the campus continued to grow. 

Now, when new students arrive to tour their campus, they’re able to find their way around effortlessly with branded signage. That simplicity helps to establish a sense of familiarity and comfort that primes students to consider attending. 

Bring school pride to the forefront with branded graphics

campus signage design

Signage can set the course for instilling school pride from the outset when used strategically. School colors, mascots, and other elements of visual culture all work together to give your university a personality that can grab student visitors and encourage them to become part of your community. When prominently displayed throughout campus, these branding elements show that your students, administrators, professors, and other personnel are all proud to be a part of your institution. 

Southwestern College is a great example of showing school pride through wayfinding and signage design. The school’s athletics program is diverse and well-rounded, offering everything from baseball to water polo. As such, it’s a major part of student culture and is in full display through their graphics and signage. 

The school’s wayfinding signage leverages the team colors of maroon and gold while including smaller images of their Jaguar mascot. That same mascot can be found in the center of their athletics field, as well as on the windows in their gym. On top of that, Aztec images and elements tie into its community in Chula Vista, California. 

Altogether, these elements establish a cohesive, spirited character that makes university spaces unmistakably full of local pride. The strategic branding particularly resonates with students who have an interest in athletics, encouraging them to consider Southwestern.  

Integrate the old and new designs to leverage an existing reputation

campus signage design

It’s not unusual for colleges and universities to have old buildings that date back to their establishment. These buildings can be a valued part of your history, as they help to establish your school’s reputation. They build credibility that makes students want to be associated with the school. However, without some updates to that design, older buildings and signage can also appear dated and lead to concerns that the school is behind the times.

Leaders at Stanford University certainly understand the challenge of integrating old, established architecture and signage into a refreshed brand identity which appeals to modern students. After all, the university is almost 130 years old. As older buildings are renovated, the university must repurpose signage and graphics while adding elements that bring them back to life. 

This was the goal for the Center for Education Research at Stanford, a building made up of a central atrium and split-level floor plans. It’s an old-fashioned design that is a bit confusing for young people not familiar with this architecture trend of years past. Stanford addressed these challenges with signage that is simple, using straightforward black and white shades to allow for ease of wayfinding in the complex building. There is also a changeable directory, with a detailed listing and floorplan featured prominently at each floor, so students can easily find their way around. 

These understated adaptable designs fit into the existing aesthetic of the building but can be changed in the future easily. Now, Stanford can highlight it’s storied past and attract students who find a long, established history important. At the same time, it can assure these students that its approach to education has adapted with the times and is positioned to continue doing so. 

Working with a Partner for Campus Signage Design 

Campus signage design is the component that ties your branding, wayfinding, and history together in a way that engages prospective students and their parents. It shows you have pride in your institution, which instills confidence and goodwill. With a strong first impression supported by signage, you can keep student acquisition and satisfaction high.  

Whether your campus is large, has disparate locations, or needs updating, it can be difficult to develop a compelling brand identity through campus signage design without a team to review existing assets and goals. You need a design firm that can not only lay out scalable signage plans, but also brings an understanding of how to convey your brand image to make the most of that crucial first impression and drive student acquisition. 


GNU Group provides campus signage design that solidifies your university’s culture and makes it apparent to your prospective students. To find out how smart, human-centric design can enhance your student acquisition rate, connect with our team.