Signage for Primary and Secondary Schools, Colleges, and Universities

Long gone are the days of the one room schoolhouse, where students of all ages sat in one space to learn. Now even smaller schools, and especially colleges and universities, are becoming sprawling campuses, where finding your way around is becoming more and more of a necessity and a struggle simultaneously.

Signage is therefore crucial for visitors, students, teachers, and staff alike, to know where they are, where they need to go, and in some cases where they shouldn’t be. In this blog post we breakdown the different ways schools, colleges, and universities use signs, and the different types of signage that helps schools satisfy their wayfinding needs.

Wayfinding Signage in Elementary School, Middle School, and High School

When you think of schools most often you’re thinking of primary and secondary schools. Though there’s often a level of routine, especially for elementary and middle schools, as to what students, faculty, and staff do each day, wayfinding systems can help new students, staff, and faculty members orient themselves faster and more easily.

Likewise should visitors arrive, be it for an open house, a family visitation day, or other special events, these signs will help direct visitors where to go and not to go.

In the case of an emergency too, these signs will be relied upon to help faculty and staff lead their students through any protocols that may be in place.

Signs for Colleges and Universities

Colleges and Universities often have the same needs as elementary, middle, and high schools, but on a grander scale. Students are also often freer to roam without permission, or a guide, and thus rely increasingly on wayfinding systems.

Even with a comprehensive tour, no doubt most students on their first day feel a sense of disorientation, and with the help of these directional and wayfinding signs they will find their classes and overtime get the hang of their new surroundings.

Dorms and Residence Halls

Aside from a small selection of secondary schools, dorms and residence halls are often unique to colleges and universities. These require signage similar, if not precisely like, other apartment and residential complexes, and these can include everything from visiting hour signs, to room #’s, to rules in public spaces like laundry rooms or other common areas.

Food Courts

Likewise the average primary and secondary school does not have a food court, and while some colleges and universities only have cafeterias serving their own food, many also include franchises be it Taco Bell, Starbucks, or other known food and beverage businesses.

These are not always regulated in the same way as a franchise; however, these businesses do often have their own rules for signage, and they will need to be taken into account too for school management and the sign companies who work on these projects.

Electronic Message Centers

Thus far we’ve discussed primarily wayfinding signage; however, monument signs, pylon signs, and other exterior signs play an important role as well in both welcoming people and marketing news, events, or the school’s values to the public.

One tool that’s become increasingly essential for delivering these messages is the use of electronic message centers. These can be placed either on a monument sign or a pylon sign, depending on the school’s preference and permit allowability through the local municipality.

Campus Curb Appeal

Though many primary and secondary schools students are zoned to these schools, even they, along with private schools, colleges and universities, must consider how signage can help with the overall ‘curb appeal’ of the school.

Curb appeal quite simply is the look and feel of a place as it appears when walking or driving by said place, and for schools that especially have to recruit students this can be a major component of a student’s first impression of a school and especially its campus.

Signs play an integral component here, and Electronic Message Centers can help, but also road banners around the campus, or on main drives through the campus, along with vinyl signage on exterior windows that help brand the school.

ADA Signage

ADA Signage is a crucial component with all wayfinding signage in all schools, as it is required in any public building or institution. Schools more and more are ensuring that they are fully accessible places, and even without government mandates they turn to ADA signage specs to ensure they fulfill their own mission to be fully inviting and open.

ADA signage isn’t simply just about putting braille on a sign as well, so it’s important to work with a sign company who understands what goes into ADA and can fabricate ADA signs for your needs.

Sign Terms 101

A list of sign terminology.

*Indicates terms that are often linked to Interior Signage, though not exclusively so.

  • ADA Signs*: Signs that meet the American Disability Act specifications for accessibility, which include placement, design, color, content, and style guidelines. Often these include signs with braille and ADA approved icons.
  • Aesthetics: elements of signage that project a particular level of beauty and value, including aspects of design, color, form, and quality of craftsmanship that appeal to a viewer’s artistic sensibilities.
  • Animated signs: a sign that uses changes in light and color to create the impression of motion, or that incorporates actual mechanical elements that move. Animated signs may achieve motion through the use of electrical power or by mechanical means, for instance wind currents. Signs that flash on and off give the impression of motion, but in animated signs, the motion is more integral to the design and message.
  • Awning signs: sign mounted to a building so that it provides information while also serving as shelter. Or signage, usually a vinyl application, affixed to existing awnings.
  • Backlighted letters: open-backed or translucent and lit from within or behind, that throws light back onto the support surface to create a halo effect around the letters. (Sometimes called silhouette or halo lettering.)
  • Ballast: the electrified structure that secures and powers fluorescent lamps.
  • Banners: portable signage made of a light, flexible material like cloth or vinyl that is hung or strung from hooks or cord. Often used to announce events and openings, banners function well for short-term signage and in-home use, or can be fabricated out of durable materials for long-term reuse indoors and out.
  • Bench signs: lettering and imagery applied to the back section or other surfaces of public seating, for instance on park benches and bus-stop seating.
  • Building fascia: the exterior wall of a building, rising from ground level to the roofline eaves and extending across the full width of the structure.
  • Building mounted signs: signage hung from or affixed to the wall or roof of a building.
  • Cabinet signs: the frame or external structure of a box-like sign that encloses the various functional elements of the design, whether electrical or dimensional components.
  • Canopy signs: sign, like a marquee, constructed or affixed to a building in such a way that it serves as a canopy over the space below; Or a sign affixed to a canopy.
  • Carved signs: signs made of wood or synthetic materials with lettering and graphics deeply gouged into the surface of the substrate. These incise carved elements are usually painted or gilded with 23K gold leaf.
  • Changeable copy panels: a section of an otherwise permanent sign that allows the message to be amended, updated, or otherwise modified using track lettering or dry erase, etc. Popular uses include A-frames and menu boards.
  • Changeable copy signs: signage structure and lettering that provides panel-support or letter tracks allowing full sign changes and updates. Popular for informational signage and announcements.
  • Channel letters: three-dimensional letters, often hollow, and may or may not incorporate a light source within.
  • Conforming sign: a sign that is constructed and installed in compliance with design, material, and construction regulations issued by the municipality in which it appears.
  • Contrast: the relative difference or variance in tone and color between elements in a sign that allow each element to stand out; for instance, light colors on a dark background, dark type on light background, or overlays of similar colors from pale to deep tones.
  • Copy: the text message or words contained in a sign.
  • Copy area: the sections of a sign that contain text message as opposed to imagery or pictorial elements.
  • Cost per thousand (CPM): the cost of bringing a message to the attention of a thousand viewers. CPM is calculated by dividing the cost of a given advertising medium by the number of individuals who will view or be exposed to the medium. Well-designed and displayed signage on buildings or on vehicles is seen by so many individuals on a daily basis that signage is considered one of the most cost-effective modes of advertising, with low CPM.
  • Custom signs: a sign made to a customer’s specifications, including their logo, copy and colors.
  • Decals: a printed film, usually made of vinyl, with a pressure sensitive adhesive.
  • Dimensional letters: cast, molded, fabricated, or cut-out lettering or design (logo) applied to create a raised image on signage.
  • Directional signs: signage that help drivers and pedestrians to navigate a given location or event, whether interior or exterior. For example, parking signs, signs featuring destinations with arrows, etc.
  • Directory signs*: signage listing names and locations for multiple business tenants in a building, or the companies in an industrial or office park.
  • Double-faced signs: signage with two fronts, hung so that the message can be seen from either side (see projecting sign).
  • Electric signs: signage that contains moving or lighted elements wired for electricity.
  • Electronic message centers: signage that features changeable text and/or illustrations, using computer software or other technology to automate the messages delivery schedule.
  • Environmental Graphics*: Graphics that are applied to a wall, often with vinyl or paint, and thus are often considered murals or wall art. These are primarily considered to be interior signs; however, they are not exclusive to interior spaces.
  • Exterior illuminated signs: sign lit by a light source apart from and aimed at the face of the sign (not lit from within).
  • Face: the front of a sign, where the message is carried.
  • Fascia signs: sign mounted on a building face (wall).
  • Flashing signs: a lighted sign that turns on and off, creating the illusion of movement and attracting attention to the sign’s message. Flashing signs usually contain a single primary message that is repeated over and over as the sign cycles on and off.
  • Flat cutout letters*: dimensional letters cut from a broad sheet of metal or composite.
  • Fleet graphics: a vehicle graphic or wrap template applied to multiple vehicles operated by one company. A great way to build brand recognition and gain exposure while off premise. A well designed fleet can make a business appear larger and enhances their visibility in the communities they service.
  • Fluorescent lamp or tube: the glass tube in fluorescent lighting that contains luminescent vapor that lights up when electrified. Fluorescent lamps are manufactured to fit into standard ballast sizes or electrical receptacles.
  • Font: a unified design for a set of letters, numbers, and punctuation marks, incorporating specifications for standard roman typeface, boldface, italic, and all combinations of these (e.g., bold italic).
  • Freestanding signs: signage installed on posts or other supports that are not attached to any building or structure. A sign that stands on its own.
  • Front-lighted letters: channel letter illuminated from behind or containing a light source, with translucent face that conveys light forward.
  • Full service sign company: signage provider with ability to shepherd a project through the entire process from site selection through engineering, permitting, design, manufacture, and installation. Also, a provider of short and long-term signage, interior and exterior, for all applications.
  • Ground signs: freestanding, self-contained sign not supported by posts or other structures.
  • Incandescent bulbs: a vacuum sealed lamp (bulb) that directs an electrical charge through a filament, which glows hot and gives off light.
  • Legibility: ability to decipher lettering and message elements based on design and fabrication quality of signage. How well a sign can be seen and read.
  • Logo: a unique design composed of text, letters, and/or images that represent a company’s brand or identity.
  • Mall signage*: wall-mounted, banners, POS/POP, and all types of signs located within the interior of commercial buildings or malls.
  • Marquee: a substantially constructed canopy often of wood, metal, and/or glass components constructed to overhang an entrance to define the space and provide shelter to those entering and leaving.
  • Marquee signs: lettering and imagery affixed to a marquee canopy, sometimes referring to the canopy itself along with the message text and images. Typical marquee signage is found at the entry to theaters and movie houses overhanging the box office and announcing current and future shows.
  • Menu boards*: changeable copy signs, typically used by retailers to list items and prices of good currently offered, or by food service and restaurateurs to describe daily meals offered. Often constructed with use of track lettering.
  • Message centers: variable message sign controlled by computer or other off-site means, allowing message to be updated from a remote location.
  • Mobile signs: sign mounted on a flatbed or other vehicle for transportation to various locations where it is temporarily being used.
  • Monument signs: a freestanding, low-profile ground sign.
  • Neon signs: sign fashioned from continuous hollow tubing bent in the shape of letters or images, filled with gases that glow when an electrical current is passed through the tubing.
  • Neon tubing: hollow tubing that is bent into shape and filled with various inert gases that glow different colors when electrical current is passed through them.
  • Off-premise signs: a sign not directly associated with the property or location at which it is displayed; e.g. outdoor advertising or event announcements displayed at locations unaffiliated with the product or event that is the subject of the sign.
  • On-premise signs: signage related to the goods and services offered at the property or location at which it is displayed, such as store names, theater marquees, building directories, monument signs, POP banners, etc.
  • Open channel letters: dimensional letters with open fronts that, when illuminated, reveal the light source. At times, open channel letters use a sheet of transparent material to protect any interior elements.
  • Painted wall signs: wall-mounted building sign with lettering and imagery on face surface
  • Pan channel letters: three-dimensional letter with sides and back constructed to hold embossed or debossed panel for front of letter.
  • Pan faces: a three-dimensional sign face (front) that includes molded raised or inset design elements; sometimes called embossed or debossed face.
  • Permanent signs: durable signage mounted or affixed for long-term use, not easily removed, and resistant to weather and other wear and tear.
  • Point of Purchase signs (POP; also Point of Sale, POS): signage posted at the location of goods and services offered for sale, advertising items or special sales.
  • Portable signs: signage not permanently affixed to a building or ground, nor wired for electricity or other utility, and easily removed to another location with little or no need for tools or special equipment.
  • Post and panel signs: sign installed by mounting on a single or multiple support posts.
  • Projecting signs: building-mounted sign installed perpendicular to the fascia of the building (appropriate mounting for double-faced sign).
  • Push-through: lettering or logo image cut through the sign face and backing material and mounted or inlaid so the sign looks as if the lettering or image had been pushed through, up, and out of the sign. Sometimes push-through lettering is backlit through the sign, or the fascia of the lettering is translucent to allow lighting the imagery from behind.
  • Pylon signs: freestanding sign with visible supporting posts or other foundational structure.
  • Raceways: for electrical signs, the enclosure that holds sign elements, which may also be the structural element that is mounted on a wall or other support element.
  • Readability (also called conspicuity): how well the sign can be perceived and understood by viewers; the level of clarity that allows the message to come through.
  • Returns: for channel letters, the sides of the letters.
  • Reverse channel letters: channel letter with opaque face and side walls.
  • Roof signs: signage mounted on the roof of a building.
  • Sidewalk/sandwich signs: portable and relatively lightweight signage constructed to stand independently, not mounted or affixed to its location, often fabricated as A-frame.
  • Signs: graphic or visual display to inform viewers about the particular location, and/or to advertise a company, product, service, or event.
  • Sign band: the area above the entrances to a tenant spaces in a multi-tenant complex where the tenants can post signage specific to their occupancy.
  • Signage: aggregate of signs for a particular use or location
  • Single-face signs: a sign with only one side carrying the message.
  • Stationary signs: a sign that is mounted in a permanent manner, usually including electrical power service that makes it difficult to move the sign without specific tools or equipment.
  • Stickers: a printed film, usually made of vinyl, with a pressure sensitive adhesive.
  • Temporary signs: any sign intended for short-term us or not permanently mounted at the display site, including such items as banners, political lawn signs, and construction site panels.
  • Time and temperature display: an electrified sign with a variable lighted message showing the current time interchanged with the current temperature, often displayed as elements in larger signs created for banks, corporations, institutions, or organizations.
  • Transformers: electrical equipment that takes available voltage and current at a site and converts it to the levels required by elements in the signage.
  • Under-canopy signs: sign designed to be mounted under a canopy.
  • Variable message signs: like a changeable message sign, one that is designed to convey differing messages at different times. Also includes changeable message, changeable copy, time and temperature sign, electronic message center, and menu board.
  • Variance: permission from a municipality for signage or installation to vary from regulated sign specifications. Variances are awarded or denied following a hearing before appropriate boards and commissions with authority to review sign design and usage requests.
  • Vehicle lettering: text, graphics or logos applied to the doors, sides, hood, roof, windows or tailgates of cars, vans or trucks. One of the most inexpensive and effective ways for businesses of all sizes to advertise while off premise.
  • Vehicle wraps: graphically designed vinyl configured and cut to fit a specific vehicle that, when installed, encases the vehicle in the graphic design to create a dynamic, eye-catching, mobile advertisement.
  • Visibility: as in readability, how well the sign can be perceived and understood by viewers; how well the sign can be seen against its surroundings.
  • Wall signs/graphics*: sign mounted on the wall of a building, which may include the exterior or interior walls
  • Wayfinding*: as with directional signage, signage that assists viewers or travelers in finding their way to a destination.
  • Window signs (graphics)*: signs displayed in window, or graphics applied directly to the window, often adhesive backed vinyl permanently affixed to the interior of the glass.