As children, we’re often told not to judge a book by its cover. But let’s face it: many times, we form a first impression on a quick glance alone. Every day, we reach conclusions based on what we see.

So imagine stepping into a school or a building on campus and immediately noticing powerful signs and eye-catching, informational graphics. What would your first impression be? Would you get a sense for the purpose of the space or the people and community behind it? Would you want to spend more time there? Chances are, you would.

For education institutions, branding through signage and graphics is an effective tool to capture attention, get people interested and perhaps most importantly – recruit. Branding can enliven spaces with color, attract attention and produce an aesthetically appealing setting. It’s with this mentality that SHP approaches branding design for our clients.

McAuley High School , a private, all-girls high school in Cincinnati is one example.  Last October, the school was in need of a high impact, quick turnaround solution to create a positive first impression among potential students before the school’s annual open house. “We wanted to create a ‘wow’ factor when our guests entered the building” said Principal Dan Minelli.

SHP took the opportunity to connect school values and typical “day in the life” activities – the McAuley brand attributes, if you will – through signage, graphics and wall treatments.  Our design solution included:

    • Column “wraps” in the highly trafficked lobby that included graphic representations of the school’s values, e.g. leadership, compassion and more.


    • Painted columns in the media center and hallways, displaying school colors and demonstrating school spirit to students and parents.


  • Signage on lockers and hallways featuring students during class or after-school sports to exhibit typical, daily activities.
  • According to Principal Minelli, the new signage and branding generated a great deal of enthusiasm among the school’s faculty, staff and current students, and helped lend excitement to the recruitment process… which was exactly the school’s goal. “The beautiful signage and graphics reinforced the power of the McAuley brand and core values, and created stunning, brightly colored visuals for everyone to see upon entering the building. They have had an incredible impact internally and externally, and have helped to create an environment that welcomes others and reinforces the strength of McAuley’s legacy and pride.”

While Dan acknowledges the open house was just one of several recruiting tactics, McAuley’s incoming freshman class for the 2015-16 school year was 28% higher than the previous year. I’d like to think the energetic open house, spurred by some cool graphic design, played a part in the process.

While branding can be purely informational, it can also be inspirational. During the design of the new Hayden Park Baseball Support Facility for Miami University in Oxford, the coaches articulated a yearning for a space that was uniquely theirs and would serve as an effective recruiting tool to attract the best talent. The team wanted its headquarters to reflect its positive values while also acknowledging the program’s winning history. We brought their vision to life in two ways:

    • Scattered throughout the facility is the university’s credo, “Love and Honor,” which reinforces the sense of history and values of both Miami and the baseball program. This includes graphics in the reception area, along a history/honor wall adjacent to the waiting area and in the locker room.


  • The phrase, “Oxford to Omaha,” is a nod to the journey the baseball team hopes to make from the campus to the College World Series, held every year in Omaha, Nebraska. This message is most notably reflected in the staircase between the first and second floors, where each step represents an obstacle (rivalries, tournament games, and so on) that the team must overcome to win a championship.

While both projects had varying approaches, our clients had the same goal: show potential students what it would be like to attend school there, and persuade students to select their school. It is also vital to note how all graphics, signage and branding support each other and work together to communicate a clear, cohesive message.

Everyone is looking for an edge in recruiting because of competition, especially in terms of schools attracting the top talent. One thing I’ve experienced by putting these ideas into practice is that reinforcing a school’s brand through signage and graphics can help provide that edge.