Student Project Improves Wayfinding at JWU

Have you ever gotten frustrated trying to find your way around an unfamiliar building? At some point, who hasn’t?

Wayfinding, or the use of signage, color and other design, helps visitors navigate a space, like the colored numbers that might identify your floor and row in a parking garage. Thanks to one professor, one course and one Wildcat, a popular building on JWU’s Providence Campus is now easily navigable.

Putting Wayfinding into Practice

After students responded well when she incorporated digital wayfinding prototypes into other Graphic Design courses, Associate Professor Karyn Jimenez-Elliott wanted to give students physical opportunities. In Spring 2023, her new course, Wayfinding & Environmental Graphics, debuted for juniors and seniors. Students learned about visitor flow, informational hierarchy, ADA guidelines and developing icon systems through various ways, from projects, digital and physical prototyping and interdisciplinary collaboration to demos and industry professional guest lectures. “I assign projects where they do have to visit other physical spaces to understand these elements and to create a cohesive design that works within the assigned space,” explained Jimenez-Elliott.

Professor Jimenez-Elliott, left, helps student Shea Lambert on a design for Wayfinding & Environmental Graphics
Professor Jimenez-Elliott, left, helps student Shea Lambert on a design for Wayfinding & Environmental Graphics


She didn’t have to look far to identify a learning opportunity; Graphic Design is among several departments housed in the John J. Bowen Center for Science and Innovation at JWU’s Providence Campus. “The Bowen Center is a beautiful building; however, it lacked wayfinding,” said Jimenez-Elliott. “I often found myself directing students, guests and visiting faculty to various locations within the building.”

Jimenez-Elliott reached out to JWU’s Vice President of Real Estate and Facilities Management, Jason Witham, to see how she and her class could improve the Bowen Center’s experience for visitors. “The key to designing good wayfinding is understanding the target audience and visitor usage of a building,” she said, “And who better to do that than my talented design students who frequent the building multiple times a day?”

A Wildcat’s Journey to Wayfinding

Before taking the course, Shea Lambert ’24 admits that she didn’t really know what wayfinding was or how it was applied to graphic design. “Truthfully, this was my first ever wayfinding project, so when I initially started, I struggled to grasp how to design for a three-dimensional space,” she said. But soon, the Wildcat’s thoughts were consumed with how many different ways wayfinding could be designed and applied.

“Which side of the wall should it be placed? Can it hang down from the ceiling? What material should I use to match the existing aesthetic? So many questions with endless possibilities caused me to have a hard time designing without having those answers,” Lambert stated.

a photo taken from behind as Shea Lambert '24 works on a design on her laptop
Shea Lambert '24 works on a wayfinding sign design on her laptop


Now Lambert knows that in future projects, she would identify the space first, decide how she wants to use it and then design accordingly. “If you design first and try to make it fit the space, you will just end up confused and frustrated because you can’t change an existing structure,” she cautioned other future designers.

You’ll want to take her advice; Lambert has put her learning into practice. Just enter the Bowen Center, where you’ll see her design guiding daily visitors to where they need to go.

JWU Community Chooses Design

Let’s back up to earlier this year when, as her students’ wayfinding designs surfaced, Jimenez-Elliott had a problem: how to choose just one? “There were so many thoughtful and well-designed solutions for wayfinding for Bowen, it was hard to narrow it down to the top seven,” she stated.

But she didn’t have to go it alone. Her class of 20 students narrowed down the selections to seven top designs, which were then put to a vote by the entire JWU community.

Including the opinion of JWU’s student body was important. “They use the building more than anyone else, and thus their input is invaluable,” said Jimenez-Elliott.

In January, the seven finalists’ designs were displayed on three gallery walls in the Bowen Center Gallery. Members of the JWU community, especially students and faculty who frequent the Bowen Center, were invited to each place one vote for their favorite design into a tally box next to the exhibit.

JWU students look over design options for new wayfinding at the John J. Bowen Center for Science and Innovation
JWU community members consider design options for new wayfinding at the John J. Bowen Center for Science and Innovatio


When the voting ended in early February, Lambert’s design was declared the winner, with the campus community receiving an announcement that it would be installed on Bowen Center walls on June 23.

“Any of the final designs would have been a great addition, but the university community spoke,” Jimenez-Elliott said of the decision to use Lambert’s “beautiful and functional” design.

Wayfinding class design winner Shea Lambert, far right, talks about her design to a group of people in an exhibit hallway
Wayfinding class design winner Shea Lambert, far right, talks about her design to members of the JWU community


This isn’t the first time a JWU Graphic Design student’s winning design was put into action on campus. One example: the next time you’re at a Providence or Charlotte athletics event, check out JWU’s mascot, Wildcat Willie, pumping up the crowd. Willie’s appearance is the work of Devon Tsinzo ’15, whose design won a universitywide contest to update Willie’s look.

The Design Winner’s JWU Journey

Lambert credits a love of packaging for leading her to JWU’s Graphic Design program. “I used to buy products just because I was obsessed with the packaging, specifically from cosmetic brands,” she said. “If you do it right there is an experience that comes with opening the product, and I want to create that fun and exciting experience for consumers.”

She hopes to be a package designer after graduation. “Design in general comes with its ups and downs, but when it comes to designing packaging, it comes so naturally to me and I always want to be actively working on it,” Shea shared.

photo collage of a professor in action, left, and a student in action, right, during a wayfinding class project
Even professors get hands-on at JWU! Left, Associate Professor Karyn Jimenez-Elliott drills holes to prepare for installing wayfinding signage; right, student Shea Lambert '24 cleans off newly-installed signage in the John J. Bowen Center for Science and Innovation


So has anything changed after her wayfinding win? Lambert credits the experience for opening her eyes to new views. “The more I learn about design and how everyday people interact with it, including myself, I am always noticing things I would change about it or question some design choices,” she said. “Whether that be a logo, a menu at a restaurant, packaging for a product — the list goes on. But the same goes for designs I love and draw inspiration from.”

“The Graphic Design environment is full of life, fun and creativity. Even if I am having a rough day or week, I am surrounded by amazing people who support me" - Shea Lambert '24

She says she has loved the faculty and friends she’s met through her program. “The Graphic Design environment is full of life, fun and creativity. Even if I am having a rough day or week, I am surrounded by amazing people who support me,” Lambert revealed.

“The faculty are incredible people who are always pushing you and cheering you on the whole way. You can reach out to them for anything, and they will do everything in their power to help you succeed. They are a big reason why I decided to come to JWU in the first place.”

photo collage of left, a closeup of signage, and right, professor and student celebrating installation of the signage
Left: closeup of Lambert's wayfaring signage preparing to adorn Bowen Center walls. Right: Lambert and Jimenez-Elliott point to the newly installed signage to celebrate a job well done.


What made Lambert choose JWU? “After touring many colleges, I saw that no one really taught Graphics Design the way JWU does," she revealed. "Many other schools tend to lean more towards the artsy side of design and a little less on the technical side, which is what I was looking for. I love to design with purpose and intention. If anyone were looking to major in graphic design, I would highly recommend JWU.”

More in Store for JWU Students

While Jimenez-Elliott keeps an eye out for other spaces on campus where her wayfinding students could improve on current signage, she is already looking forward to next semester, when she’ll take on an interdisciplinary collaboration with Associate Professor Evan Villari. Jimenez-Elliott’s design students and Villari’s Media & Communications Studies students will team up to work with The Avenue Concept, a local nonprofit that makes free public art accessible and available to Rhode Islanders.

a photo of the Providence skyline featuring "Still Here" by Gaia, a mural commissioned by The Avenue Concept (courtesy of
The Providence skyline is brightened by Gaia's "Still Here," a mural commissioned by The Avenue Concept
(photo courtesy of


For this collaboration, Wildcats will work together to create something for the larger Providence community.

Whatever that top-secret project turns out to be, thanks to what some Wildcats have learned about wayfinding, chances are good that people won’t be able to miss it.


Apply to JWU

Transfer to JWU

Visit JWU

Explore JWU from Home