Guest Post: Linda Hofflander, Skykit
I’ve seen some really bad digital signage content in my 15+ years in the digital signage business.
I’ve seen signage using long bullet-point lists on default PowerPoint themes. I’ve seen neon yellow text on a royal blue background, so bright it made my eyes hurt. I’ve seen low resolution images with the pixels so predominant that they looked like stairs.
Surely you’ve never made such a grave mistake—but odds are you’re still making some common errors in your content. Maybe not that bad as what I’ve highlighted, but it might need some polishing.
A lot of careful consideration goes into making top-quality, eye-catching content. Today, I’m revealing “inside secrets” about how to do exactly that.
Make People Stop and Look at Your Screens
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 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 SoHo, you could target your younger-skewing customers with social media-oriented content.
Demographics should inform design, information, and call-to-action choices as well. (We’ll talk more about design later—this is just to get you thinking.)
Take QR code usage, for example. Across age groups, 64 percent of scanners are male.
The disparity was greatest in the 55+ age group, with 71 percent of scanners being male. However, that age group makes up only 15 percent of all people using QR codes.
People between the age of 25 and 44 were most likely to scan a QR code.
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 Purchase, 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.
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 Purchase 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. Try Something New
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. Design Properly
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 feasible 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.
Never use all caps for more than a couple words (so don’t use it for a long sentence or more than once on a slide) as readability drops significantly.
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. There’s some useful rules to help you do that.
With an LCD screen, use the 4/6/8 rule. That means that viewers can be four times the image height away in order to process complex information, six times to view simple information, and eight times for casual perusal.
With LED, take the pixel pitch and multiply by 1,000 to find the minimum viewing distance.
No analytical method yet exists for finding the minimum viewing distance for a projected image, though one’s on the way.
5. Keep it On-Brand
Your design and content should fit with your brand’s image. Consistency is one of the most important elements of making your brand recognizable.
Your content should be visually similar or largely identical across locations. Take the time and decide how you’re going to create a uniform look for all of your content. However, beware of using generic filler. Consistent doesn’t mean boring!
Some strategies include:
- Creating template slides into which content can easily be inserted by your creators
- Issuing guidelines for writing within your company’s “voice.” What sort of vocabulary is acceptable? What sort of target audience are you writing for? Are you sassy or serious?
- Finding out what style guide your company prefers. Is it Internet (Chicago Manual of Style) or internet (Associated Press Style Guide, as of this year)?
- Displaying social media feeds in your digital signage—the marketing department is already hard at work projecting your company’s voice on Twitter, so why not harness that?
6. Give it a Read
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.
7. Give Your Viewer a Job
If you’ve been successful in grabbing a viewer’s attention, you don’t want to waste that opportunity. Give them a call to action, now.
Even if the content is purely informational, it doesn’t hurt to include a call to action as a secondary purpose. If you’re announcing an event, direct viewers to your online calendar so they can plan ahead to attend future events.
Use strong verbs to propel action. Don’t suggest; give orders.
Some words, known as trigger words, are considered powerful tools for catching eyes. You can find lists online, but here’s a few to get you started: You (makes the customer feel directly engaged), free (speaks for itself!), save (everyone loves savings), easy (customers are less likely to take action if it means work for them), and new (novelty is compelling).
Give them the when and where. 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.
What’s the worst or best digital signage content you’ve ever seen? Tell us about it in the comments.