In this post, we share 10 years of experience in school wall art design and delivery to help headteachers get maximum impact and value for money from their wall commission.
What is ‘school wall art’?
We are talking about large-scale wall murals, sometimes also referred to as wall graphics. They tend to be commissioned for prominent walls in the foyer or entrance of a school or school department. Wall art can make an immediate impact on students, staff and visitors. Designed well and properly thought out, it can help a school communicate many different things. Done poorly, it can be a waste of time and resources. In this post, we help explain the factors that make the difference.
Tip 1: What do you want to communicate?
Without a clear goal, you risk ending up with a project which fills the space but doesn’t deliver on the needs of the school. The 3 most common goals for a headteacher when commissioning a wall art project are:
- inspiring and engaging students
- communicating the school’s values
- leaving a positive impression on parents, visitors and potential staff (recruitment)
Some less obvious objectives to consider:
- visually welcoming people to the school (or department)
- creating a more unique sense of place – reflecting the “brand” of the school and differentiating it from others
- introducing or reinforcing key educational ideas or knowledge
- celebrating your students’ achievements
- improving a drab or uninspiring architectural or interior space
- to aid with wayfinding
Above all, hire an experienced and talented designer. It will mean you don’t need to be too specific about content or concepts. A good designer will respond to your brief with creative, inspiring ideas.
Tip 2. What is the best location for school wall art?
Survey your school building for the best wall(s) for the project. The best location for high-impact wall art in a school is often in the entrance foyer, next to the reception or in the main entrance corridor. All the visitors will then see it on their way into the building.
Alternatively, if your primary goal is to engage the students, consider areas where students congregate in between lessons:
- the main hall,
- the canteen,
- a common room,
- key circulation corridors or stairwells
In addition, you should also consider the relationship of the wall(s) to the surrounding space. Wall art has less impact in a corridor or access space, where people are unlikely to linger, compared to a waiting/congregating area.
How is the wall lit? If your space is dark, we suggest factoring in new lighting into an interior graphics project.
Finally, consider taking it outside. Most school wall commissions tend to be installed inside. However, if your building has more of a campus feel with separate blocks for different departments, give some thought to exterior murals.
Wall art in classrooms
We advise against installing wall art in classrooms. This is because the evidence suggests this might even be counter-productive, especially for younger children. It could be distracting at a time when they should be concentrating on lessons.
In conclusion, wall displays are most effective in shared social spaces outside of the classroom.
Tip 3: How to write a school wall art brief
Before looking for a designer, you should put a brief together. It isn’t possible for anyone to deliver on your needs without a good idea of what they are. So, here is some advice on what should be included in an effective brief:
Firstly, summarise what you want to communicate (see tip 1). Remember, it is the designer’s job to propose solutions to your needs, so don’t feel you have to be too specific about the end result.
Next, describe the location for the wall art (see Tip 2). If you are not sure exactly which wall (or walls) would work best, that’s ok. An experienced designer should be able to advise.
Now get the wall(s) measured to the nearest meter and put these measurements in your brief. If you have easy access to the architect’s plans of your building, a floor plan of the area would be useful information for your designer.
Next, take some photographs of the wall(s) and surrounding space from different angles. Try to get as far back as possible and put all the lights on.
Finally, indicate when you would like the project to be completed. Bear in mind that wall art projects can take as much as 3 months or longer from start to finish, depending on their size and complexity.
Tip 4: How to choose the right designer
How do you know who to hire?
Firstly, consider word-of-mouth recommendations. If someone you know has worked with a great graphic designer, then take a look at their website. Look at their past projects and ask yourself this question: have they designed school wall art before? If not, proceed with caution.
Next, search the internet. Be mindful that companies at the top of search results aren’t necessarily the best at what they do. Take note that they might just be the best at search engine optimisation! Does the designer/design company have independent reviews which specifically detail school wall art or wall graphics projects? Who wrote the reviews? Can you verify them in some way?
When looking at a designer’s website, pay close attention to the general quality and creativity of their work. For instance, is the work engaging, intelligent, intriguing and unique? How many school wall art projects have they undertaken? Is it beautiful and easy to look at? Are there real concepts behind the designs?
Tip 5: Get realistic estimates
The next step is to get estimates. If contacting more than one company, send out the exact same brief and information to everyone so you can compare like with like.
Wall art projects can involve potential hidden costs, which you should be aware of. For instance, check that the estimate covers the entire design process, including changes (both conceptual changes nearer the start of the project and tweaks towards the end).
Similarly, does the budget include project management, a site visit and print/installation management?
Does the estimate cover (and itemise) print and installation as separate from creative design?
Finally, have you considered only commissioning the creative design part and hiring a print firm directly? This could save you money and give you more control over who undertakes the print and installation.
Tip 6: Check the condition of your walls
What condition are your walls in?
There are several ways a piece of wall art can be produced and installed. The most common is to print on self-adhesive vinyl and apply directly to a flat, plastered (and painted) wall. However, for this to work, to look good and to last, the wall has to be in good condition; so completely flat with no lumps or cracks. If it isn’t, remedy this by filling any cracks and sanding flat.
After that, have the walls painted white, making sure to avoid using paint with ‘easy clean’ additives or ‘mould inhibitors’. We recommend using a standard trade matt white paint. If the walls are newly plastered, then it is really important that the plaster is allowed to fully dry before painting.
However, if your wall doesn’t have a flat surface (for example, exposed brick or just very old) then our best advice would be to install panels.
Take all these decisions into account at the estimate stage as there may be cost implications for your project.
Tip 7: How to work effectively with your designer
The most important stage in the design process is the start. Meet face-to-face where this is possible, allowing plenty of time to discuss the project. During this meeting, cover everything in the brief.
Discuss potential concepts or content. However, don’t feel you have to commit to any creative decisions at your first meeting because the best ideas often don’t materialise straight away.
After that, take your designer to inspect the site for the new wall art (they will want to take photos and measure up too).
Next, work out a schedule to work to, working backwards from the installation date.
The next meeting in your diary will be for the designer to present their creative ideas, which could include a sample of finished artwork. Use this meeting to ask questions, make suggestions and evaluate whether you think your designer has ‘nailed’ the brief.
In conclusion, successful design projects happen when communication between the designer and the client is clear, open and direct.
Tip 8: Vinyl wall coverings vs panels vs painted murals
Self-adhesive Vinyl Wall coverings
This is the most common solution for interior wall art. Vinyl wall coverings allow for floor-to-ceiling coverage on an unlimited scale. Unlike rigid panels, vinyl can be applied to curved walls and around corners, or into alcoves.
Vinyl wall coverings are printed on a high-tac self-adhesive hard wearing vinyl material that comes in rolls. It is fitted in sections (or ‘drops’) much like wallpaper. The ‘drops’ have to be fitted with a slight overlap (this will be visible as a little ridge about 1cm wide). This is because vinyl can shrink slightly, depending on temperature or humidity fluctuations.
However, one potential problem with self-adhesive vinyl wall graphics is that they are difficult to take down or repair if they get damaged.
Rigid panels are a great alternative solution for wall graphics. This is because they are easier to install and can be moved or taken down if needed.
Panels (such as Foamex or Dibond) can either be printed directly or wrapped with printed vinyl and fixed to any wall surface, however uneven, with timber battens.
Larger wall displays can be created by butting together several panels. With this approach, even large walls can be completely covered.
However, be aware that with panels, the joins may be slightly more noticeable than with straight-to-wall vinyl. In addition, floor-to-ceiling coverage (especially around doorways or windows) isn’t always possible.
Painted murals are an entirely different design proposition from printed wall art, due to the scale of the detail that is possible. So, consider what can be achieved, and how far away the wall will be viewed from.
The advantage of painted murals is that they can be applied to uneven surfaces, such as brickwork, blockwork or metal shutters. They are most commonly located outside.
Tip 9: How to proof-check wall artwork
When your designer has completed the artwork, they will most likely supply it in the form of a PDF file.
First, is the artwork sharp when zoomed to actual size, allowing you to see all the detail?
Second, if there is text on the artwork, make sure to get more than one person to spell and grammar-check everything very carefully. Spelling mistakes are easy to miss, especially when there are names and places, which won’t be picked up by most spellcheck software.
Third, make sure you are happy with the way the artwork is cropped and where the joins land (if there are any).
Finally, ask for a small printed sample, at 1:1 (actual) size, on the actual wall covering material. This is so that you can check the colour and the print quality.
Tip 10: Make the most of your school wall art
So your new wall art is up, and it looks fantastic. Here are some suggestions for next steps:
First, hold an opening event (especially if it coincides with other school improvement works or a launch of some kind). Invite the local press/MP. Your new wall is a photo opportunity, but more importantly, (if done right) it is an embodiment of your school values and mission, so it is worth spreading the word about it.
Next, take some photographs of your students with the new wall and post them in your next newsletter and on social media.
Some schools we have worked with at Toop Studio have even used parts of their wall art in their future branding.
Additionally, if your wall art is educational, consider how it might be used as a learning resource.
A few years ago, our studio designed a wall for a School in Portsmouth that was a visual timeline from the beginning of time to the present day (and beyond). Consequently, some history classes began to congregate in the foyer to study the wall.
Springfield School Film 2016 from Shadric Toop on Vimeo.
Toop Studio has been designing and delivering successful, bespoke wall art projects for schools around the UK for over ten years. To enquire about a wall art project for your school get in touchTags: school branding, university, murals, interiors, walls, school, wall graphics, design for schools, foyer, wall design, education, brand, graphic design, college, wall art, lobby