Taking Buffalo by Storm

Posted in Case Study, City Wayfinding, Civic, College Wayfinding, Education, Healthcare, Healthcare Wayfinding on December 19th, 2014 by Mark VanderKlipp – Be the first to comment

Buff_BNMCWith a nod to the impressive winter weather this upstate New York region experiences, Corbin Design has recently completed two comprehensive exterior wayfinding projects: Buffalo State, a SUNY college, and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (BNMC).

Located roughly three miles apart, each project presented similar challenges, but for very different audiences:

  • They are integrated within the dense urban core, making parking and circulation problematic;
  • Each provided diverse stakeholders that contributed to the wayfinding system logic and design;
  • First time visitors access these campuses daily;
  • Students, staff, volunteers and residents are now seeing and sharing the new wayfinding logic;
  • Each campus experiences continual changes and frequent campus events, requiring flexibility in signage design;
  • Weather conditions play a critical role in the design and engineering of the signage; and
  • Each wayfinding system is contributing to an enhanced institutional brand experience.

Urban Core

The BNMC is located between the Allentown and Fruit Belt neighborhoods, to the north and east of Buffalo’s downtown core. Bordered by the Kensington Expressway (33) and several main roadways that traverse the city, BNMC is an economic engine in the heart of Buffalo. Because it continues to grow and attract new businesses, the pressure on the city grid (especially at certain times of the day, such as shift changes) created frustrating traffic bottlenecks. Corbin Design’s wayfinding analysis utilized current and future traffic projections to clearly direct circulation throughout campus, both for staff and visitors.

The Buffalo State campus features iconic Rockwell Hall in its campus seal.

The Buffalo State campus features iconic Rockwell Hall in its new campus seal.

Buffalo State is similarly situated near the Scajaquada Expressway (198) and identifies two primary highway exits to access campus. We conceptually split the campus into two halves based on the campus plan and boundary roadways that serve two distinct audiences: Academic traffic is directed down Elmwood, which is the traditional “front door” of campus and features iconic Rockwell Hall; Athletic visitors use Grant Street to more easily access parking and facilities for athletic events. This reduces cross-campus vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

Diverse Stakeholders

In order to solve the wayfinding problems on each campus, we first had to learn from those that experience the problems daily. At Buffalo State, we brought together administrators, students, faculty, events and facilities planners, communications and campus security to understand the challenges faced by each audience. Their observations led to several recommendations:

  • Establish a new Wayfinding Team that supports consistent wayfinding communications across campus;
  • Design campus circulation based on the realities of the campus plan;
  • Direct to visitor parking and the visitor’s center as primary destinations;
  • Identify existing campus landmarks (prominent buildings and quads) and create new landmarks; and
  • Clarify parking and rules for students, staff and visitors.

The BNMC campus consists of multiple institutions, located throughout Buffalo and concentrated within the BNMC campus. Roswell Park Cancer Institute, the University at Buffalo (UB) and Kaleida Health comprise the largest campus partners; along with these, a growing roster of research, academic and healthcare related businesses are locating here. Both the campus and the neighborhoods feature amenities such as shopping, dining and transit stops. Corbin Design’s task was to build a system of wayfinding standards that would place each institution in a proper hierarchy for wayfinding, based primarily on the need to efficiently direct first time visitors.

First Time Visitors

And speaking of them, they are coming to each campus at any time of the day or night. Because BNMC has one existing Emergency room in Kaleida Health’s Buffalo General Medical Center, direction on the signage needed to cover any potential pathway to that destination. It appears prominently as the first listing, in a bright red panel with white type. As the campus expands, a new Oishei Children’s Hospital will be added which will contain a pediatric Emergency room. The wayfinding is designed to accommodate this change on the day the Children’s Hospital opens.

At Buffalo State, campus visitors can range from prospective students and their parents to sports camp participants, visiting professors and commencement attendees. Members of the community interact with the campus daily, since it’s located on the northern edge of Elmwood Village, an up-and-coming historic, residential and arts district in Buffalo.

Each visitor has different needs, expectations and abilities. Some may have physical or cognitive limitations. All require the basic elements of thoughtful wayfinding: information prior to their visit (verbal, printed or digital), consistent with simple, legible and relevant information in the built environment.

A Staff Education document outlines the tools designed to support wayfinding.

A BNMC Staff Education document outlines the tools designed to support wayfinding.

New Wayfinding Logic

The information provided to the first time visitor needs to be short and simple. So the people sharing that information need to understand it, and be able to communicate it effectively.

Within each institution, extensive internal education efforts are underway. Timed to coincide with the rollout of the physical signage program, institutions, schools and individuals on each campus are now able to share the new logic with campus visitors. Because the process was designed to solicit input from the start, all those who participated are now seeing that their ideas were included in the design of each signage system. This ownership has increased awareness and, prior to each launch, anticipation of the new signage.

Buffalo State has announced the changes on their Web site, providing links to new wayfinding logic, mapping and the overall concept of the program. The BNMC will help each member institution roll out their internal education programs once final installation is complete (Q1 2015).

Continual Changes

Temporary messages can be applied to vehicular guide signage as needed, reducing visual clutter.


When the scope of our work is complete, our clients need to be able to take the reins. So we’ve prepared each Wayfinding Team with the tools to expand and change the wayfinding systems as needed. On the Buffalo State campus, we’ve designed a unique system that allows temporary display of messages. This places concise wayfinding information on the directional sign, benefiting the visiting driver and reducing campus clutter.

At BNMC, we designed a “Priority Matrix” tool for wayfinding. Because changes are continually occurring and space is limited on wayfinding signage, the matrix helps the Wayfinding Team determine which destinations appear on each sign type. The criteria, agreed upon by those who represent each institution, include the type of institution (research, medical, academic, etc.) and the projected number of annual first-time visitors. These information is scored, and the final score determines each destination’s priority on signage.

These simple, understandable and definitive criteria keep the wayfinding logic intact over time, reducing internal debate and the inevitable temptation to add more information to signs, resulting in clutter.

Weather Conditions

Everyone knows how much snow falls in the Buffalo Niagara region. But an even bigger issue is the wind, which can cause damage to wayfinding signage as well. Working closely with our clients’ project teams which include campus facility managers and engineers, we helped them select sign fabricators that had the resources and experience to assure long-term safety, visibility and durability no matter what Mother Nature has in store: frost line depth, wind loads, snow removal equipment and other factors were designed into each sign system.

At Buffalo State, we partnered with Popli Design Group to design and assess engineered foundations for each sign location. At BNMC, the sign fabricator subcontracted engineering services and worked closely with the City Engineers to determine the best location for each sign based on wayfinding effectiveness, underground conditions and sight lines.

BNMC Campus gateway sign welcomes visitors and directs to primary destinations.

BNMC Campus gateway sign welcomes visitors and directs to primary destinations.


Brand Experience

A new wayfinding system is a direct reflection of an organization’s commitment to their visitors. By proactively connecting all forms of communication that a visitor experiences as they access each campus, Buffalo State and the BNMC have each designed an amenity that allows visitors to be informed, empowered, and most importantly, less stressed as they access campus.

Each campus now has new “front doors” through which their visitors pass. Each client has expressed how the new wayfinding signage has changed perceptions of their campus, as well as how people navigate through space. And each Wayfinding Team is equipped with the tools to maintain the information over time, as campus changes occur.

Snow, cold, wind, heat, students, parents, patients … bring ’em on! Our clients are ready!

Additional Information:

Buffalo State Case Study

BNMC Case Study


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