Digital signage design

Digital signage design: the pro’s guide

Digital signage design is key. And for those designers moving into signage from another discipline, such as web design, it’s not simply a case of porting over your existing skills; there are a whole new set of considerations that you need to be mindful of.

Web viewports may well differ in size, and someone could be looking at your page on a mobile phone or a large desktop display; so you’ll already understand that designs need to fit context. But when it comes to digital signage design, you could be presenting designs on displays a few inches in size, to others that take up the side of an entire high-rise building. (See our digital signage templates post to see how some designers tackle these problems.)

Learn more about ASUS commercial displays, and how they can help your digital signage efforts

Also, where most people are seeking out web-based content, with digital signage you are—in most cases—trying to attract the attention of someone that has a full, 360-degree view, and isn’t considering interacting with a screen. This can be a challenge.


Time to get animated

“More and more we’re using cinemagraphs in our digital signage work,” explains Ciaran Crudden, senior designer at Gatehouse. “A cinemagraph looks like a still poster at first glance, but the subtle movement in one detail catches your eye. They’re much harder to ignore, and very arresting – which is why they’ve become so popular.”

Mark McDermott, CEO of digital signage platform ScreenCloud, agrees. “Balancing the right amount of transitions and animations is an art,” says McDermott. “The objective is always to deliver information in a meaningful, but eye-catching way—without annoying the viewer.”

Designing for digital signage screens: the pro's guide McDermott

Of the designers and UX experts we spoke to, motion continued to present itself as one of the key components of good digital signage design, no matter what the size of the project was.

William Barraclough, design director at MerchantCantos, oversaw a recent project for insurance company Aviva, where its London HQ was fitted out with two huge, 7.6m x 4.3m digital displays for its reception. Again, movement was vital.

“Motion played a key aspect in delivering content on screen to avoid cognitive overload, and allow for an easy-on-the-eye experience, whilst consuming relevant and timely information,” Says Barraclough. “Understanding the pace allowed for a set of rules to be created as part of the wider visual language.”

Designing for digital signage screens: the pro's guide Aviva main

Once you’ve got someone’s attention, the next challenge is how you present data in a way that doesn’t confuse or intimidate your audience, and for Barraclough it was important that he and his team try and replicate the experience that those viewing Aviva’s signage would have.

“Designing for such large screens, and a passive audience, presented issues of understanding how much content would be right for the displays,” Barraclough explains. “We calculated frequency and pace of change using two 55″ screens in the studio—positioning them to reflect a model of the real environment. This aided the design and animation teams to understand the reality of the space and create a more engaging experience.”

Designing for digital signage screens: the pro's guide Aviva 2

Using the three Fs

None of what we’ve covered thus far means there is a silver bullet for good digital signage, though. But there are academic studies on the effectiveness of digital signage taking place across multiple sectors, in a bid to isolate the key elements of a successful display. We spoke to Arindra Das, who has an (MS) in Human-Computer Interaction with Ergonomics from UCL, and spent time researching digital signage in Swedish retail outlets.

“I recommend three Fs for designing Digital signage: Feel (make the customer feel emotionally engaged); Frame (set the frame right); and Fee provide promotions and offer information),” Das tells us.

“Aesthetically pleasing cues such as short clips increase a customer’s experience, stimulating high emotions; whereas intellectually driven content, such as functional information, incites reasoning.

“Framing the display in physical space, as well as considering the environmental context, is important, too. Placing it near queues makes the customer waiting time seem shorter; and there must be enough space and distance for the display to be perceived effectively. Lastly, highlighting price promotional elements provides meaning to the ads, and increases engagement.”

Outside of retail, you may not be able to incorporate some of the above elements into your signage, but there are still some decent, general rules of design that you can apply to almost any signage you might produce.

“There are a few basics to good screen design,” McDermott explains. “Readability is crucial. Most digital signs are viewed from a distance of seven-10 feet away, so font size and colour contrast make a big difference.

“Also avoid adding important information, text or defined elements (such as logos) near the edge of the display area to avoid cropping on different screens—a 10% bleed is advised.”

Finally, you should always try and incorporate dynamic content into your designs, rather than produce flat templates that never change.

“If the content is web-based rather than a static asset (image, video, PDF etc.), then consider a dynamic data source that is easy for people to update, like a Google spreadsheet or CMS. This ensures the content stays fresh and relevant,” McDermott concludes.

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