New signs foster a sense of pride and place

York University campus has a fresh, new look. The physical signs are everywhere – they feature York’s bright new red logo and are visible at road entrances, in front of buildings, along walkways, next to parking lots. Whether you’re driving or walking, they give clear directions and an unmistakable sense of York as destination.

“It makes you feel like you’ve arrived somewhere,” says Steve Dranitsaris, senior executive officer, VP Finance & Administration. For the past two years, he’s chaired the steering group that hired designers and planned the implementation – beginning with exterior and some interior signs this summer – from aubergine and other competing sign designs of old to a single, uniform look.

The new signage is a critical aspect of York’s new brand. It not only helps people find their way around this increasingly urban campus by car or on foot easily, efficiently and safely, it gives a sense of cohesiveness.

“Brands are like signposts. You can spot them a mile away,” says Richard Fisher, chief communications officer. “That’s what we want for York. Imagery that’s consistent and clear fosters confidence in an institution. It contributes to a sense of pride and a sense of place.

“The York brand, with its red, white and black colours, is forward looking, progressive, bold and challenging,” adds Fisher. “Our signs are made to reflect this.”

“From a master planning perspective, we want to have uniformity,” says Dranitsaris. It increases people’s comfort level for navigating the roads and walkways. And it will speed up emergency response.

Roads are clearly marked, once-nameless pedestrian pathways are named and buildings along them have been given proper addresses. For instance, the Chemistry Building is 140 Campus Walk.

This makes it easier to locate, especially for Toronto’s emergency services, says Dranitsaris. “They have been concerned for some time about their ability to respond to emergency calls to named buildings because it’s not always clear which building callers are identifying.” Confusion has arisen in the past over 911 calls where callers identify the same building by different names. It’s not difficult to see why. What is now the Health, Nursing and Environmental Studies building was until this year the Schulich School of Business and before that the Administrative Building. New signs will remove any doubt about the name of a building from now on.

“Because of the density of population and buildings, York is moving from a rural campus landscape to an urban landscape,” says Dranitsaris. So the ability to simply point a person in the right direction is no longer possible.

Kramer Design Associates helped York develop the new hierarchy of signs. Experienced in wayfinding systems, the consultants worked with various York departments, including Communications, Facilities Planning and Security, Parking & Transportation Services, to design clear, helpful signs for a “large and complex” institution, said Dranitsaris. And “they understand branding and messaging.”

The new exterior signs range from the massive signs at major entrances to multi-directionals at walkway junctions. Parking lots are clearly identified as reserved or for visitors. All buildings have addresses. And map displays near parking lots, TTC stops and other strategic junctions are aimed at helping pedestrians find their way.

A couple of the major entrance signs have been delayed. At York Boulevard and Keele, the big, old red sign remains indefinitely while talks proceed on restructuring the intersection, says Dranitsaris. A temporary sign may be erected. And the Pond Road sign has been “a little slow” because of concern that the four-feet deep concrete bases might interfere with buried cables, he says.

New interior signs are on their way. They are already installed in new buildings, such as the Computing and Engineering Studies Building, the William Small Centre, the Technology Enhanced Learning building and Parking Structure III. They will be phased in during renovations of older buildings. That means soon for the Tait McKenzie Centre and the Health, Nursing and Environmental Studies building (old Schulich building). Dranitsaris predicts that it could take four or five years before old signage is replaced in other buildings. Parking lot and parking structure signs should be in place by 2004-2005.