2011: Good, Bad And Fugly (Part 2)

December 30, 2011 by Dave Haynes

(Link to Part 1: The Good …)

I’m going to look more at trends, as opposed to calling out people, organizations or projects. That serves no particularly good purpose. But let’s just say the environment is target-rich.

Common Sense

The other day, I was standing outside one of those mall body lotion shops that seem to haul in women the way a liquor store would pull in guys if they had free samples. The combined scent is over-powering. I don’t go in.

So I am staring across the way trying to figure out what on Earth someone might have been thinking when they put a screen roughly 16 feet up above some Christmas special event thingie, facing an elevator shaft.

It was placed too high for anyone to possibly notice. It was too small a screen to try to get some notice from a distance. And it was facing across the foot traffic flow, not into it.

Never mind all the material and all the seminars you could read and attend to learn some Best Practises, this is a common sense thing. Wouldn’t somebody look at the plans and say, “Umm, that’s a total waste of effort guys.”

I see this all the time, everywhere. It can’t be just written off to some dire need for more educational options. If anything, I’d say there is, at this point, a glut of entry-level education efforts.

Whether you are a software, hardware, content or deployment guy, exercise common sense and don’t be afraid to tell your customers the same. The idea of the customer always being right only applies if you’ve concluded it’s a one-time buy. And even then …

This is just one stupid execution, but bad work just leads to more of the same. People see this sort of thing and assume that’s how it’s done.

Interactive Just Because

Engagement is one of the buzziest of buzzwords at the moment, as we chatter away about the importance of creating interactive “experiences” that engage consumers and build relationships.

Well, sure. But the experience has to make sense. What we’re seeing in the market is a lot of interactive “just because” stuff and not a whole lot of work that is actually meaningful and, here’s the big one, impactful.

At one of the big trade shows through the year, I visited one very ambitious booth and was encouraged by a sales guy to try out their interactive retail thing. It was a display wall that let me use some sort of touch or sensor thing to paint digital stuff on the screens. I asked why I would want to do that and what the business application might be.


I have been demo’d other interactive ones that got me, by poking away at buttons, to more, deeper information on products and services. All I wondered was how many people – in a busy store or public place – would actually go through that exercise. Particularly those already armed with smartphones.

Sales people demo’d gesture-based stuff for me that allowed users to navigate screens JUST BY — OHMIGOD — WAVING THEIR HAND IN MID-AIR using Kinect or something. Why?

I am not an interactive designer or strategist, but I do have one critical attribute. I’m a consumer.

There are early adopter and late onset ADHD types who will flock to anything cool just to try it. But my guess is that most consumers, like me, will warm much more to interactive if it gives us whatever the heck we’re after more easily, and much faster, than using more conventional methods.

I’m not seeing a lot of that.

Instead of predictable stuff of little consequence, look at things that could pretty interesting and useful. Apple’s Siri voice recognition feature on the iPhone 4S is a great example, yet again, of tweaking tech that already existed and making it compelling.

If I was at a bus stop with a digital screen, and it was humping a new Hollywood release, I could ask the screen where that flick is playing that night, in my neighbourhood. And I could also ask when the hell the bus is going to arrive at that stop.

It’s often not a big leap to go from briefly interesting to consistently useful. But if you are doing this stuff it’s a step that has to be taken.


Like all technology and media sectors, digital signage and Digital OOH people get very excited about stuff that is shiny and new, and tend to overlook real world applications and implications.

There are businesses that appear to be betting their farms on the broad-based application of stuff like projected holograms, autostereoscopic 3D, augmented reality, Bluetooth and interactive gesture stuff in public spaces. But the brands that will actually throw a few bucks at these sorts of things will tend to do it once, and then get distracted by the next shiny new object to get their attention.

Most of these technologies are interesting for about a minute. One time.

I’d argue most social media integrations on to screens are just gimmicks that are unsustainable, and have more to do with cheap content feeds than actual strategies. A Twitter or location check-in stream on a screen, running in tickers or visualizations, is no more useful or relevant than commodity news headlines.

In the old days, newspapers had editing desks populated with people who made headline writing an art form. There are people on Twitter who are that good, and others just popping up stuff that’s often interesting. But their Tweets have to be plucked from the “stream” in ways not possible through artificial intelligence, aka machine moderation and filtering. It takes an editor looking for a lot more than just naughty words, and that costs real money – and usually means the feed is no longer cheap and the concept unsustainable.

It’s nowhere near enough just to make the technology leap (it’s more a skip) to get social streams on screens. The big job is sorting out the “why?” part of it.

EVERYBODY chatters away about integrated media and transmedia (the latter always making me think of John Waters movies), but there are perhaps three companies in this space – Locamoda, Insteo and Screenreach – who’ve made real progress on cracking the code.


First, there are several good ones, but there are lots that are either wastes of time for readers or wasted efforts for the people and companies behyind these blogs. The advice I always give to anyone starting a blog – or musing about doing so – is that they shouldn’t even start unless they are prepared to commit the attention and thinking it needs to be worthwhile.

Technology companies that start blogs tend to write about themselves, and how awesome they are. But that has a really limited readership. People read blogs to learn, not be sold. Or they write about the industry in general terms, but do so without any reliable focus or pattern – meaning readers have no cause to make that blog a habit.

Where I see very few technology companies, in particular, using blogs is to help their customer base and keep them informed. They have an opportunity to easily tell clients and prospective clients where they are at in the development cycle with new features and products, but it’s not being done.

Don’t start a blog unless you have something useful to say, and offer fresh, unique and genuine insight or can convey information people want and need to read. Don’t start a blog unless you have the resource to keep it going past the first few weeks (SO many sputter after they launch).

The best advice – at this point there are enough soapboxes out there that allow others to submit guest posts (like this one). Guest posters get an existing reader base, none of the maintenance issues, an elevated profile, and no pressure to steadily push out new material.

Start a blog if you really bring something new and know you can stick with it.

Big companies

Coming on lucky 13 years in this kooky sector, I have seen all kinds of big companies – hardware, software, services, telecom – come into it and then exit, sometimes a few times. The only really consistent presence has been the display guys.

So it remains frustrating to watch companies with so many resources, so much depth and muscle, do so many stupid things. They put the wrong people in charge (or perhaps exile their problem children to the misfit toy dep’t). They make big investments in products and services that have limited or no market application. They bog smaller partners down in endless meetings and pointless detail.

But worst, they seem to operate with the same degree of humility as Donald Trump in front of a camera.

One anecdote: at DSE, one of the big display companies that hadn’t been all that active in the space for a few years asked me to come by and meet with some VP. He showed me the pots and pans, and I asked how they planned to get this largely unfamiliar, strategy-driven line of business sold through his organization. He told me, straight-faced, his company had a proven formula for selling copiers and that was easily applied to selling displays for digital signage.

Ok then.

It’s the big companies that, in many ways, keep the trade shows going and they’re certainly the ones buying the drinks and food at receptions. They’re what keep trade publications going through advertising and advertorial, and some big-ish companies are advertisers here. We need them, want them, and welcome the resources and customer base.

They’re an important part of the ecosystem, and I’ve met and dealt with some great people from huge companies. But it would be a big moment if the prevailing attitude shifted away from what often feels like the little industry’s collective head being patted by these big guys.


This is a maturing industry trying hard to build and hold credibility. Time to cut all the crap, fellas. The overstated capabilities. The reality distortions. The ridiculous certifications and titles. Time to act and be taken seriously. The truth is always about 10 seconds away using Google.

Tomorrow: The Fugly.


  1. morgan williams says:

    i like the fact that you are frank and straight to the point with programming and big company priorities or lack of priorities. Old school sales formulas very well may not work. But these guys don’t want to hear that. And yes, it seems like too many tech companies are flooding the “space” with stuff and not putting the right thought into the end product. You’re right, content and programming are important. I’ve often thought that there’s potential for too many gadgets going onto the screen. Yeah, it’s cool to send tweets to the screen but why?

Leave a comment