Would you tell a major donor to get lost?

That is exactly what happened at a major Australian university.

Several years ago, I was consulting to a major University on a wayfinding project which came about because the University had missed out on a promised significant donation.

The benefactor couldn’t find the Vice Chancellor’s office and left out of frustration. The donation was never made, so the Vice Chancellor then took a personal interest in improved wayfinding.

First impressions count 

The realisation to the University, this was a common experience that made it a doubly tough lesson. It left them wondering what else they missed. It also called into question the broader student experience, with the realisation that a great academic record might not be enough to attract and retain donations or students.

It’s well known Universities operate in an intensively competitive, dynamic and increasingly de-regulated global marketplace for students. This is causing the reinvention of established campus models. Beyond touted academic reputations, a foundation of campus experience is an effective wayfinding system which can be understood by everyone. How else would even highly educated people know how to navigate?

The University of Tasmania Student Experience Strategy 2016-2020 identified five areas of focus, one of which is:

“provision of high quality environments, experiences and clear communication strategies that assist students to make connections with peers, support staff and the broader community”.

First impressions count for more than just wealthy benefactors. Wayfinding is just one of many first impressions and ongoing operational challenges facing the education sector. Knowing the location of key destinations and how to navigate to them is critical for new visitors, the academic community as well as emergency services.

The key to delivering effective campus wayfinding and a meaningful campus experience is to address the physical environment and the needs of its users, then develop strategies and actions. Then, collaborate with other specialists to integrate wayfinding, public art, digital and lighting to deliver a holistic experience. This is what we do at The Blueprint.