Improving the accessibility and usability of a new smart laptop locker system at East Kent College in Folkestone, Dover and Broadstairs.Experience and Product Designer. Passionate about creating a better world for everyone, through making great products.

Laptop Locker Signage

Informational signage for students and staff

Working for East Kent College Technology Services alongside a fellow student, I worked to solve the real-world problem of students understanding and interacting with East Kent College’s new smart laptop locker system.

Role: Project Manager & Lead Designer
Team: Myself & Alex Lawford
Client: East Kent College

A great job. I am really impressed with what you have completed with the laptops, and I know visitors I have shown have also been impressed. I think there is most definitely potential in taking this further across Folkestone.
Victoria Copp-Crawley, Folkestone Campus Principal

Table Of Contents

Project Parameters

The project was bound by the following parameters:

  • has to adhere to metal and plastic laptops and painted laptop lockers.
  • has to be sized appropriately for both Lenovo and MacBook Air laptops.
  • has to be long-lasting and able to resist common college hazards.
  • has to conform to new brand guidelines as college rebrands to EKC Group.
  • has to use resources already available to the college to ensure cost-effective delivery.
  • has to be relatively easy to apply by technicians on various campuses.
  • has to make it clear how to borrow or return a laptop, using inclusive language.
  • has to feature all information and instructions for smooth daily operation.

The project was complete once 4 locker systems and 130 laptops had their labelling applied and spares were produced and supplied.

Research and Observations

We looked at the use of information design in the real world, as well as the cultural and material properties of stickers and their placement. This research helped us understand how words, shapes and colours are used to convey information, including on road signage, warning labels, and ticket vending machines.

A road sign showing directions to Secret Bunker.
Road signs are designed to be seen from a distance.

We looked at the cultural aspect of stickers and their placement on laptops and in the world, so that we could create informational sticker products that look like they belong in the space they’re designed for, instead of appearing as sticker graffiti.

A MacBook Air covered in various stickers.
How do you make a laptop sticker stand out against other laptops trying to stand out?

We also looked into the use of colour in informational signage - such as the use of yellow for caution and blue for information - as well as the use of mixed-case typography and chunking to ensure legibility and understanding.

Adrian, a student, using the laptop lockers.
Observation played an important role in understanding how students use the laptop lockers.

Observations found that a large proportion of students had issues when returning the laptops. Most notably, they returned the laptops in an incorrect orientation or forgot to reconnect the laptop to its charger.

Development

Then it was time to develop the design of the informational sticks for the laptops and lockers. In this instance, I started by sketching out designs for the laptop locker stickers, before creating digital and physical prototypes to test legibility and clarity of information in the space.

A paper prototype of the final locker sticker design.
A paper prototype of the final locker design.

During prototyping, it became clear that the client’s original brief - that we have one big sticker on the panel nearest the locker interface - would cause issues, as the information would be too far away from the point of interaction. Prototypes that placed the information right next to the point of interaction were more intuitive and easier to follow.

Development sketches of the laptop stickers.
Development sketches of the laptop stickers from arrow to chevrons.

When iterating on the design for the laptops, it became clear that we were dealing with two differently-sized laptops. The MacBook Airs were both narrower and less deep than their Lenovo counterparts. This meant we needed to design a sticker that would look good and work well on both platforms.

Iterating through designs and sketching, I decided upon a modular, chevron-inspired design for the stickers, allowing for dynamism in the design as well as easy installation across a range of sizes of device, with chevrons added or removed based on the size of the device.

Installation

Once the stickers were designed and printed, using Roland VersaWorks Dual and a BN-20 vinyl printer and cutter, it was time to install them. Alex and I started in Folkestone, as this was our home base at the time, to make it easier for us to adapt our process and gather any tools we would need as the day progressed. Once we were comfortable with how things were at Folkestone, we were able to put together an installation toolkit that we could take to the other campuses.

Myself and Alex using our simple toolkit to prepare and fit laptop stickers.
Whilst crude, our selection of tools was perfectly suited for the job.

This toolkit was rather simple, being made up of two application squeegees, a vinyl weeder, a utility knife, and an installation “jig” made of a 7cm piece of foamboard and a right-angled set square. This small selection of tools were all we needed to apply the stickers, and installation at each site took between 1.5 and 2.5 hours depending on the number of stickers involved and the proximity between our work area and the laptops.

Evaluation

Campuses fitted with informational labelling have seen a dramatic increase in the use of the locker system and laptops by students, and a reduction in incorrect replacement of laptops into the lockers. Staff and students alike love the colourful and clear design of the stickers.

East Kent College Technology Services are now looking to roll out the smart laptop lockers to their new Canterbury and Sheppey campuses, and they will be labelled in the same way as those systems in Dover, Folkestone and Broadstairs.

Post-Install Improvements

After installing the locker signage at Folkestone, we kept an eye on how people interacted with them and any potential problems that may arise in the real world. A couple of months after installation, it became clear that students were physically tapping and dragging their ID badges across the reader, leading to damage to the sticker.

Damaged Step 1 sticker from students tapping and dragging their ID badges across the sticker.
Damaged Step 1 sticker from students tapping and dragging their ID badges across the sticker.

As soon as this problem became evident, I worked to develop and produce a solution to the problem. I reprinted the sticker at a slightly reduced size (90%) and ordered a resilient laminate material to go over the top. I then laminated the two parts together and fitted them on the laptop lockers in Folkestone.

A side view of the new, laminated solution installed and good to go in Folkestone.
The UV and moisture resistant laminate also gives extra physical protection, increasing the longevity of the stickers.

A pack of replacement stickers was produced for both Dover and Broadstairs campuses and distributed, with an instructional video on how to install the replacement, to the campuses for their on-site technology teams to deploy.

Email Sam