Monthly Archives: February 2015

Creating an Immersive Experience through Experiential Branding and Wayfinding

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In this article for University Business, Paul Orban, market leader for higher ed at BHDP, and Tim Smith, director of experiential branding, share how wayfinding and environmental graphics have become integral parts of an institution’s architectural expression.


branding and wayfinding on college campuses University of Toledo by BHDPThe needs of those who work and learn in institutions of higher education require environments that reflect their preferences and culture more than ever before. That’s why experiential branding and wayfinding have become integral parts of an institution’s architectural expression. While the brand—the story of who you are and why you exist as an institution— builds distinction (beyond curriculum choices) in the marketplace, wayfinding serves to direct, inform and inspire. Together they provide a spatial orientation in what can be an extremely complex and overwhelming environment, especially for those who are new to the campus or who have physical or other disabilities.

Integrating Experiential Branding and Wayfinding

Experiential branding and wayfinding are processes for engaging people as they interact in and with their environment. It is the practice of communicating a brand through a combination of graphic, architectural, interior, media, landscape and industrial design. Experiential branding connects people to places through distinctive, informative and memorable experiences. Likewise, wayfinding identifies, orients, and guides decisions about where people are in their journey using visual cues that include, but are not limited to, signage.

When used together, experiential branding and wayfinding are part of a unified representation of an institution’s brand expression. As such, they need to be designed to be flexible, accommodate tradition and, when necessary, reflect transformation. Successful experiential branding and wayfinding programs enhance and reinforce an institution’s identity by leveraging established equities, including recognizable architecture and landmarks. These programs assist faculty, staff, students and visitors in identifying buildings by name, realizing where they are in a building and figuring out how to get to specific classrooms or other areas. These tools enhance their journeys, enabling all visitors, faculty, staff and students to feel positive about their experiences as they find their destinations.

Here’s one example. Consider the admissions tour, usually the first campus visit by prospective students. The ultimate goal of the tour is to influence students’ decisions to apply to that institution. Yet, visiting a campus for the first time is intimidating. If they drive to the campus, they need to figure out how to get there and where to park. Then these potential students and their family wander around campus trying to find the admissions’ office. It can be stressful for students at a time when the campus seeks to persuade them to enroll. On the other hand, guiding students through these experiences via effective wayfinding and enriching their initial encounter through experiential branding provides a more positive cognitive experience. The visual cues assist in linking the students to the institution emotionally, allowing them to imagine themselves on the campus for their college careers.

The Importance of Branding and Technology

Higher education institutions are similar to other enterprises struggling to stay ahead of the competition while figuring out how to attract their target audience. An institution’s brand dictates the appeal of the campus to the prospective audience through every touch point, from the website to the admissions materials to the physical environment. While it’s relatively easy to control the brand in a marketing brochure or at a recruitment fair, it’s more difficult to do this throughout the campus setting. Campuses are dynamic environments with new structures erected, old ones razed and classrooms and offices moving to different locations. Creating a balance between consistency and messaging in experiential branding and wayfinding supports a positive experience as change occurs. Additionally, interactive technologies and other information delivery systems are being incorporated into campus buildings to enhance the user experience. These programs allow for interaction to engage students, faculty, staff and visitors. At Miami University (Oxford, OH), the new Armstrong Student Center is equipped with technology resources to aid in individual and group work. Additionally, this building was designed to facilitate productivity and social interaction. The building’s design, materials and contextual narrative allow users to feel as if they received a relevant guided tour through the space. The Center both reflects Miami University’s brand and the end user to support an expressive, memorable and interpretive journey.

Shaping Experiences through Brand Execution

The branding and wayfinding narrative is part of what excites incoming freshmen, fosters engagement with all stakeholders, and creates loyalty in graduating seniors. A campus experience built on the brand’s touch points strengthens and reinforces this bond. As colleges and universities seek to differentiate themselves through their environment, experiential branding and wayfinding are proven, cost-effective strategies to create engaging, enlightening and memorable immersive experiences.

Paul Orban, AIA, LEED AP is the higher education market leader and Tim Smith, AIGA Fellow, is the design leader of experiential branding for BHDP Architecture. For more information, contact BHDP Architecture at 614 486-1960 or visit the website at

This article was originally published at University Business. Republished with permission.

Image: Branding at University of Toledo’s Memorial Field House welcomes students and visitors and introduces them to the university’s mission. Learn more about this project at

Designing for Impact: Strategies to Attract and Retain Students

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Paul Orban, market leader for higher education at BHDP, shares how building design and campus planning can help colleges attract and retain students in the competitive landscape of student enrollment.


Increasing enrollment is a priority for many institutions. The race is on to create a marketplace distinction in order to attract new students and to retain current students. As if this challenge weren’t enough, colleges and universities are faced with rising costs, reduced endowments and smaller budgets. As campus leaders look for ways to leverage their resources and still accomplish their enrollment and growth goals, one viable strategy is to recognize the role that physical facilities have on student attraction and retention.

First Impressions

First impressions are vital selling points for prospective students. Students seek an environment where they are able to study, learn, collaborate and be successful. In a 2013 study of 165,743 first-time students, respondents reported that “A visit to this campus” was the sixth most selected reason (out of 23 choices) in deciding to attend the particular institution.1 Students want to be able to envision themselves on the campus for their post high school studies. They focus on whether they feel comfortable in the places where they will spend most of their college time, including the library, the student center, laboratories and other specific buildings. This becomes even more important if students already have an area of focus or major. A dynamic design of the outside of a building and an engaging layout inside are fundamental in the student experience during their initial campus visit and later while enrolled at the institution, both in terms of helping potential students feel at home as well as academically supporting enrolled students.

It’s not enough to create comfortable areas for students. Equally important is designing classroom spaces that support students’ academic successes. Areas conducive to learning and interacting with other students and faculty encourage behaviors that help students become more immersed and engaged in their studies and stay motivated to remain at the institution until graduation.

A New Campus Emerges

One example of a college that used these principles successfully comes from Southern State Community College (SSCC), located in Hillsboro, Ohio, and serves several surrounding counties via four campuses. The college recently closed its original campus and built a new one in the growing community of Mt. Orab. The first academic building on the new Brown County Campus (pictured above) was designed to be vibrant and inviting, both on the inside and out, and to promote a “wow” factor to current and prospective students. Brown County is known for its brown red brick. SSCC wanted the building to stand out. To accomplish the goal, it was constructed with a darker brick façade. Designers also included a multitude of windows in the building, allowing for natural light to shine in during the day and for it to be seen at night. “We are right off the highway and people pass us all the time. The building stands out like a beacon which was important to us. We wanted it to be exciting and make a dynamic impression to get a lot of attention,” said Peggy Chalker, Director, Brown County Campus.

The inside of the building is spacious and lit with invigorating natural light. The colors within the building were chosen to convey a sense of enthusiasm and vivaciousness. Visual aids assist in making classrooms more exciting. “Students today are visually oriented and use a higher speed of technology. They want information immediately and we can provide that now,” said Chalker. SSCC offers several programs requiring varying levels of power and technology to run the equipment. When these programs were housed in older buildings, the equipment ran slowly or was not responsive. This is no longer a problem as the new building contains the latest technology and equipment.

The Brown County Campus only has been open a few weeks, yet Chalker and her staff have felt the effects from the building design. “Students who never noticed us before are stopping by. Students who stopped coming are returning. Students who were thinking about going further away are switching to us to stay local,” said Chalker. She believes it is important to offer a challenging environment that is encouraging and conducive for learning. “If they can find their niche and feel comfortable in the learning space, this gets them excited about the college process. They want to belong in that building and in that environment,” said Chalker.

Stand Out from the Crowd

Discovering unique ways to stand out from the crowd is an essential strategy for attracting and retaining students. This involves more than figuring out how to spend the available funds. The key lies in determining how the student experience can be enhanced based on space, landscape, facility and other design considerations. By understanding an institution’s real value proposition and incorporating those strategic factors into the redesign of existing space or building new facilities, colleges and universities will gain a competitive edge as they seek to attract and retain students.


Paul Orban, AIA, LEED AP, is the higher education market leader for BHDP Architecture. To learn more about how BHDP can help you attract and retain students with integrated campus design, contact Paul at [email protected]

To learn more about BHDP’s previous work within higher ed, visit /work/higher-education/

This article was originally published at University Business. Republished with permission.