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Every year, colleges across the country welcome a new crop of students. They join upperclassmen, faculty, maintenance staff, support workers, and dozens of other groups present on campus. And, for the first few weeks of the year, campus is relatively chaotic as everyone figures out their new routine. Universities looking to ease this chaos benefit enormously from wayfinding.
Wayfinding doesn’t just help the new crop of students get their bearings; it’s useful to anyone on campus, no matter how well they already know the environment. It’s important to remember that wayfinding isn’t only about knowing where things are or how to get to them—it’s also about navigating the space fluidly. As campus operations directors and facility managers seek to improve the campus experience for everyone on it, wayfinding stands as a great opportunity.
What is wayfinding?
Wayfinding is a support system that helps students, faculty, staff, visitors, and anyone else on a college campus understand where they are, and help them get to where they want to go. It can be as simple as a digital campus map or as complex as turn-by-turn directions to a specific room in a particular building. Whatever features it offers, the goal of a wayfinding solution is to make navigating campus simpler and more efficient.
These days, most wayfinding solutions come in the form of an app or a cloud system. This allows users to unlock their smartphone and instantly access the campus information they need. Look up a professor and find directions to their office. Look up a class to figure out where it’s meeting today. Chart a course from your dorm room to a building you’ve never been in before. It’s all possible through wayfinding—that, and simply being able to see where amenities or emergency services are at a glance.
Wayfinding refers to the process of navigating and orienting oneself within a physical environment, such as a building, campus, or public space. It involves using visual cues, signage, maps, and other information to understand and follow a path or reach a specific destination. Wayfinding helps individuals understand their current location, identify points of interest, and determine the best route to their desired destination.
The main goal of wayfinding is to provide clear and intuitive guidance to users, ensuring they can navigate a space efficiently, safely, and without confusion. Effective wayfinding design takes into consideration factors such as the layout of the environment, the needs and abilities of the users, and the context in which the navigation is taking place.
The benefits of wayfinding for schools
The robust capabilities of modern wayfinding for schools and colleges come with many benefits that make it a great investment. Here’s a look at seven of the most prominent benefits associated with campus wayfinding:
- Alleviate congestion. With thousands of people walking around campus at any given time, it’s important to modulate traffic. Wayfinding can ease congestion by suggesting alternate routes at certain times of the day, or even providing real-time updates on areas where overcrowding is an issue.
- Improve navigability. Whether they know where they’re going or have no clue where they are, wayfinding makes navigating large campuses simpler for everyone. Condensing the sprawl of campus to a smartphone-sized map enables better decision-making by students—especially when they’re racing the clock.
- Reduce disruption. Nothing interrupts a class like someone walking in because they have the wrong room. Likewise, not everyone has time to stop and give directions to a hurried passerby. Wayfinding reduces these types of disruptions by giving everyone the power to get to where they need to go.
- Ease transitions. Professionals and students alike have places to be after class ends. Wayfinding helps them chart the way so that they can arrive on-time composed and ready for the next item on their itinerary. It’s a simple way to reduce instances of flustered faculty and winded students so that class can start on-time.
- Familiarize campus. College campuses are privy to a number of visitors—everyone from pizza delivery drivers to visiting friends and family. These individuals need a way to get familiar with campus instantly, so they can find the people and places they’re looking for. Wayfinding provides necessary context.
- Emergency action. Where’s the nearest first-aid station? Where are campus police located? Where’s the emergency exit in this building? These are important questions that wayfinding can answer, to empower greater safety on campus. It’s an instant way for someone to get their bearings in a dire situation.
- Improve accessibility. From wheelchair-bound persons to those with special needs, wayfinding is a tool for making life on campus easier. It can show where handicap access is or where certain facilities are, to empower those with accessibility needs to better-navigate campus in a way that supports them fully.
Wayfinding’s numerous benefits make it something anyone on campus can and should use. Universities that encourage a wayfinding-first approach to acclimating on campus will find themselves with a campus population that’s more adept at navigating and more comfortable with the environment.
Everyone on campus benefits from wayfinding
For new students, wayfinding is a vital tool for getting familiar with campus. For returning students and seasoned faculty, it’s the key to finding the quickest route to wherever they need to be. For visitors, it’s an abundance of information that makes finding specific people and places easy. Everyone can use a campus wayfinding app to improve their interaction with the university and the many buildings under its purview.
Whether it’s a campus spread throughout a city or one with sprawling grounds, wayfinding helps students get to class and everyone else get to where they’re going. Moreover, it does so with experience, efficiency, ease, and expedience.
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