Guest Post: Irfan Khan, Skykit
Imagine the absolute worst possible digital signage content.
Let’s say it’s in Comic Sans. The type’s too small, and there’s a whole paragraph of text up there—in yellow text on a white background, naturally.
There’s one picture, but it’s tiny and grainy, floating in that white void.
Also, the slide flies onto the screen in a jittery swirl. In other words, this looks like something a junior high student might throw together as part of a much-procrastinated-on PowerPoint presentation.
I’m sure you know better than that, but odds are you’re still making some common mistakes on your content. Maybe not that bad, but it might need some polishing.
Are you keeping the same content for weeks at a time? Months?
Do you use bullet points? Long sentences?
Does your content flash by on the screen too quickly to read, or too slow to hold attention?
A lot of careful consideration goes into making top-quality, eye-catching content. Today, we’re revealing inside secrets about how to do exactly that.
I put together a separate list of 20 free tools you can use to create beautiful content for digital signs without using a graphic designer. And you can get your content up in less than 15 minutes. Get that list of tools here.
How to make eye-catching content for digital signage
1. Consider the audience
Not all potential target audiences react the same way to content.
Age is a big factor.
For example, if you owned a store in Sanibel, Florida, where the median age is 60, your digital signage shouldn’t focus on social media interaction. Given that only 18 percent of people between ages 50 and 64 access social media on their mobile phones—that is, potentially while in your store—you’d have very little chance of fostering customer engagement that way.
However, if you had a hip little vintage clothing store in NYC, you could target your younger-skewing customers with social media-oriented content.
Demographics should inform design choices as well. (We’ll talk more about design later—this is just to get you thinking.)
If your corporation is a professional environment full of no-nonsense businessmen, you’ll want sleek designs with simple color schemes.
2. Location, location, location
Is your digital sign located at a Point of Transit, Point of Sale, or Point of Wait?
The answer should help you determine the pacing and amount of information conveyed in your content.
A Point of Transit sign is located where people are on the go. This includes things like wayfinding kiosks at airports and digital billboards along highways.
If your sign falls into this category, recognize that you have very little time to get the attention of passers-by.
Particularly with advertising, you must strive to be as concise and bold as possible, using some of the tricks we’ll be discussing later. Why? Because average dwell time for something like a digital billboard is around two seconds. That’s not much time to make an impression.
If you have multiple segments on your sign, they should cycle through quickly to maximize chances of your audience seeing multiple messages.
If you have a Point of Sale network, there’s not quite as much of a hurry, but your audience is still there for a purpose.
Focus on providing immediately relevant content that focuses on opportunities available now—for example, a sale in a nearby aisle, or a giveaway that can be entered on the go.
Consider timing how long customers spend within visual range of your signs. This will help you determine how often to switch between segments. If the same information remains on-screen for the entire time your customer is within visual range, they’ll get bored and stop looking.
Make sure whatever information you put on the screen is readable within the time allotted!
With Point of Waiting signs, you have a captive audience. As customers queue or linger in a waiting room, they’ll be desperate for anything to distract them. This means you can include longer messages and more words per segment.
However, in order to take advantage of that longer dwell time, you’ll have to compete with cell phones. Consider mixing in trivia questions or fun facts with advertising and other important information in order to keep customers’ attention.
3. Freshen it up
If you don’t refresh your content frequently, repeat visitors will eventually stop paying attention to your signs.
However, you don’t have to start from scratch every time.
You can simply swap new stock images into your existing content. Or change the layout of an existing message. Or add a bit of motion where there hadn’t been any before. Or maybe just change the color scheme.
4. Remember design principles
It’s time for a crash-course in the principles of digital signage design!
Your goal is maximizing visual appeal and ease of reading.
In an ideal world, you could hire graphic designers to do this for you, but given how frequently content cycles out, that’s not an economically feasible option for many companies.
Luckily, by focusing on a few key areas, you can do this in a few minutes for yourself, especially if you use the top 20 tools I mentioned at the beginning.
Hopefully, you know better than to choose Comic Sans or Papyrus. There’s more to it than that, though.
Particularly on outdoor signs, you should avoid difficult-to-read script fonts. If you use it as an accent font, make sure it’s large and only used on one or two words.
Choose sans serif fonts (Helvetica’s the classic example) over serif fonts (such as Times New Roman)—the lack of serifs gives them a cleaner look.
Have no more than two fonts per slide or segment of content, and make sure they’re from different categories. Two novelty fonts in the same place is too visually busy.
Finally, consider tone. A heavy blackletter font would look out of place on an advertisement for a summer sale, but might fit an announcement about a book club.
With colors, contrast is the name of the game.
Pair dark text with light backgrounds. Be wary of using white text on a black background—if the letters are too small, they can be hard to read.
You also want your colors to be visually attractive together. Use the color wheel as your cheat sheet. Complimentary colors (opposite each other on the color wheel) pair nicely. So do colors that are next to each other on the wheel, called analogous colors.
Fewer colors is better—one color should dominate, another contrast and highlight, with maybe a third for accent (perhaps as part of the image).
When it comes to composition, it’s hard to go wrong with the rule of thirds. It’ll help you achieve asymmetrical balance. Asymmetry catches the eye and is more visually interesting than symmetry, but you have to execute it correctly.
Mentally divide your screen into nine rectangles of equal size.
Content placed close to the intersection of the lines will stand out more. That’s where you want important elements to go.
Also consider filling one-third of the space with an image while putting a neutral background with text in the other two-thirds for a simple, clean look.
While it’s tempting to animate every square corner of the screen, don’t.
Moving text is too difficult to read, and more than one moving element will vie for the viewer’s attention and distract from the actual message.
Motion should be used sparingly, to grab the eye without hurting readability.
If you want to call attention to a headline or alert, have it blink just a few times before holding static so it can be read.
For visual interest, a slow pan over a static image, or a steady shot of something slightly moving (like waving grass, or a time lapse of a city scape) are arresting without being distracting.
The above items do contribute to readability, but here’s a few final tips.
Deliver your message in as few words as possible. The fewer words, the more impact each word will have. You don’t even need to use full sentences. If you must include more words, make sure the message is on-screen long enough to read.
Double-check that the content is large enough to be read from wherever viewers will be standing when they see it.
Because there are so few words per image, any mistakes you make will jump out dramatically.
Read through all your content (and get someone else to look through it for you) to make sure there are no grammatical or spelling errors. Someone will inevitably mock you on social media for a typo.
Trust me, that’s not the kind of attention you want.
Also ensure that all information is accurate. If you direct customers to the wrong aisle for a deal, you could be missing out on sales opportunities. And heaven forbid you give the wrong date for an event.
6. Include a call to action.
If you’ve been successful in grabbing a viewer’s attention, you don’t want to waste that opportunity. Give them something to do, now.
Use strong verbs to propel action. Tell them where to go to take advantage of the information—whether that’s an aisle or a website. And if this is a limited-time opportunity, give dates to create a sense of urgency.
Your digital signage network is only as effective as the content you display on it.
While content creation can be intimidating to a non-designer, it’s also often a budgetary necessity to create your own. Thankfully, it’s totally possible to give your audience visually appealing and engaging information, as long as you follow the above tips.
Have you had any typo disasters? Let’s learn from each other’s mistakes—or wild successes. Share your experiences in the comments!