University of Waterloo

Waterloo, ON


The University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario, boasts a beautiful 1000-acre campus settled in a natural landscape full of greenspace, trees, meandering pathways and multiple elevation changes. While interesting to view and explore, navigation to and within its 100+ buildings was a challenge for those unfamiliar with the campus, due to minimal and inconsistent signage. This is a reality many academic campuses face, and why a well-designed, adaptable wayfinding program can be so important.

We wanted to design a wayfinding program that nestles harmoniously into the park-like environment while making the campus – which is not all grid-like – easier to navigate with a consistent, easy-to-recognize information hierarchy, terminology, and family of signtypes.

The wayfinding strategy was based on input from students, faculty and visitors arriving by car, foot, and transit, about how they understand and use the campus roads and pathways to get from place to place. We also observed people navigating the campus at key decision points.

With the University of Waterloo's recently refreshed brand strategy, identity, and visual aesthetic, it was time to develop a clear and consistent wayfinding program to align the user experience with the brand promise. Our goal was to introduce a bold, stand-alone design – in this case a design that is directly linked to the branding rather than the architecture or surroundings – into the environment to unify the campus and create a distinct sense of place. The wayfinding program is the common element throughout the environment that ties it all together.

Striking gateway installations announce the University to students, visitors, and passers-by, greeting them with a modern design that takes advantage of its bold brand colours and makes extensive use of metal and glass to underscore its strength and precision of purpose. The balance of the exterior program comprises building identification, directional totems, and pathway markers, all with information ranging from campus sectors, department and building codes, to walking distances and parking.

With a big initiative like this one, which impacts everyone who uses the campus, Waterloo made a point of engaging students, faculty, and staff through extensive visioning sessions and workshops to gather input and feedback on the design during initial and later design phases. The design features elements from both the newer and the older architectural styles found on campus. The triangulated pattern, which resembles a network, or honeycomb, was inspired by Waterloo’s emphasis on connections, partnerships, and on multi-disciplinary collaboration – different approaches, groups and perspectives working together to create something great.

Over the past six months, Waterloo has continued to develop the interior signage phase of the project and guidelines will be released to the campus Winter 2021.