Tickers and zoned screens need to be the exception, not the rule, in digital signage

June 24, 2011 by Dave Haynes

I was struck at InfoComm by the way technology, good creative and actual thinking were resulting in some really strong content on big fella video walls and totems around the trade show.

It’s nice to see how far the industry has moved in really thinking through an idea and execution.

On the other hand, I was struck by how little has been accomplished in working with smaller, single screens. In conference presentations, and in way too many booths, there were screens showing text going this way and that, rain dribbling out of cloud icons and more text than anybody would ever stop and read.

I get, completely, that the purpose of a trade show is to demo the software pots and pans – and that means showing, among other things, that your software is slick enough to do all kinds of things at once on a screen.

But just about anyone worth getting into a conversation with at a booth already knows that sort of thing is a standard capability for just about any vendor out there. Anyone with software that can’t support multiple content elements on a screen, in 2011, might as well fold up the tents right now.

The problem is that showing all these carved up screens and news tickers and weather icons is instructing the AV and systems integrator crowd – which will tend to think what gear to use long before programming strategy gets raised – that all these examples are spot-on. They’ll reasonably conclude, “Well, that’s how it is done.”

That’s how it’s done, when it’s done badly.

The problem is compounded by the many, many companies that load up pre-baked template libraries with multi-zone layouts. This is again telling end users THAT’s the thing to do.

These layouts can be beautifully designed and look very pretty when all slapped together. But they force a set of eyes to look in three or four directions at once.

There’s a relevant correlation between digital signage layouts and PowerPoint/Keynote slides. We’ve all rolled our eyes and mentally tuned out when someone fires up a presentation jammed with words and images. And we’ve all been pointed to presentations that work – which are invariably minimalist pieces with one big image and very few words.

They work because the message is clear and not fighting with other things for attention.

There are, definitely, cases when a screen with multiple content zones makes some sense. But the digital signage industry exists and markets itself on the ability to communicate quickly and effectively with people.

If a flat panel display was put up on a wall to do that, the message being communicated will be hugely more effective if it commands the full screen – contains powerful imagery and very few words – and is competing with nothing else for those precious pixels.

We’re seeing national and regional Digital OOH networks struggling to sell ad time and stay in business, and one (certainly not the only) reason is these networks are hurting their own cause by loading up screens with junk content that serves no other purpose than to diminish advertising recall rates.

A few of us in the industry were nattering away a year ago about, basically, death to tickers. I’m not sure much progress has been made.

Another really well-worn phrase applies here: Keep it simple, stupid.

(Image was from a conference presentation on digital signage. Forget who.)

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