The walls in our schools offer a great opportunity to communicate visually to students, staff and visitors. Here’s a list of ten things school wall graphics can do.
1: Walls to Inspire
Perhaps the most important thing school wall graphics can do is inspire. This requires interesting content and a compelling design. In the above example, the quotation ‘The Future Depends On What You Do Today’ is the starting point for a visual exploration of the past, present and future which touches on many areas of human activity. The impact this wall had on Springfield School in Portsmouth can be seen in film above.
2: Walls to Inform
One of the most powerful things school wall graphics can do is display educational information on a specific subject. As well as classroom walls, the corridors outside departments are ideal for this purpose. The walls shown above are outside the Food, Nutrition and Catering department at the Wellington Academy in Wiltshire. They deliver scientific and practical information on eggs, bread and milk in bite-sized chunks.
3: Walls to Aid Wayfinding
Walls can make Wayfinding in a large building easier for new students and visitors. Visual cues to what is going on behind a particular door can be more powerful and more interesting than text signs alone. In the example above, the Performing Arts department and the Music department were behind generic looking doors, and from across the atrium the signs were too small to be legible. The addition of the music and theatre-themed wall designs make these departments unmissable in a way that also adds character.
4: Walls to Spark Investigation
If people are intrigued by an interesting wall graphic, then the wall has more chance of sparking thought or investigation. In the above example, the relationship between the structure graphic and the mathematics department isn’t immediately obvious. In fact the structure was created by Curved Spaces, a piece of software written by contemporary mathematician Jeff Weeks. Information about this is on the wall and a QR code takes students to a webpage from where they can download the software for themselves.
5: Walls to Challenge Preconceptions
One of the most common school wall graphics you will see is a world map. The map above challenges at least two preconceptions about the world: Firstly it is Pacific-centred, which shows more clearly how much of the planet is covered by water. Secondly it uses the Gall-Peters projection, which while stretched, means the areas of the landmasses are to scale, unlike the often seen Mercator projection which shrinks Africa and South America in favour of Europe.
6: Walls to Embody Values
A school’s motto, mission or values can be the starting point for a wall design. The entrance lobby walls at Varndean School in Brighton (examples shown above) feature designs inspired by the values of the school. The wall shown features five islands and six bridges that represent the journey through the school from year 7 to year 11 and beyond.
7: Walls to Initiate Debate
A school wall graphic can initiate debate if it presents information that people are likely to compare to their own knowledge or experience – something which then becomes a talking point amongst friends or colleagues. The English wall at the Wellington Academy above features the ‘Top 100 Books ever written’. It is of course a hugely debatable list – but that’s the point. According to the Head of English, soon after this graphic was installed, pupils (and staff) started debating which books they liked best, counting how many books they had read and even seeking out books they hadn’t.
8: Walls as a Visual Resource
Another good use for a wall is as a visual resource to be used by students. The wall above surrounds the entrance to the Visual Arts department at the Wellington Academy, and is made up of a large network that covers example works by many key artists and designers. Students can use it to initiate research, browse for visual ideas or to test their knowledge of art and design history.
9: Walls to Support a Brand Identity
An entrance wall is the perfect place to present a school’s brand identity to visitors. In the example above, the wall graphic tells the story of the school logo – which in this case embodies a particular ethos within education based on the theory of multiple intelligences.
10: Walls to Make an Impression
A school or college has an opportunity to set the tone and make an impression on visitors by using walls as art. In the above example, the Varndean School foyer walls are visually rich and portray a school that is diverse, bold and creative.
Wall Graphics vs Wall Art
Schools and colleges are hugely diverse places – they bring together both young people and adults, both with a broad spectrum of backgrounds and interests. The range of approaches to school wall graphics is also hugely broad, with many different reasons to communicate as shown in this article. It is of course possible combine several approaches in a single wall. In many cases it shouldn’t have to be a choice between ‘walls as graphics’, ‘walls as art’ or ‘walls as branding’ – the most successful walls manage to work on many levels.
The thing to remember is that the walls of a school are an important opportunity to visually communicate to students, staff and visitors – an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.
Film about the Wellington Academy walls project
All the walls shown in this article were designed by Toop Studio.