5 tips to prevent digital signage burnout

Digital signage systems are becoming pervasive in architectural environments, with widespread adoption in out-of-home marketing, wayfinding, menu systems, and retail branding.  The steadily dropping cost of digital screens and cloud-based content distribution makes digital signage highly appealing to brands and organizations looking to quickly inject more “digital” into their physical locations. Digital signage has spread to every single bus-stop, grocery store aisle, and fast food outlet you can possibly imagine.

However, there is a big problem with digital signage:  People quickly burn-out on flashy-flashy-winky-blinky screens.  Even though digital signage is just starting to be widely integrated into our built environments, people are already overloaded and desensitized to evermore screen time.  The content becomes irrelevant:  No matter how gorgeous the imagery, how elaborate the video editing, how slick the motion graphics – it all just becomes visual “noise” that people tune out.

So let’s consider 5 design strategies that facility operators, brands and marketers can use to capture the attention of the occupants of a space and prevent digital signage burnout:

1. Break the proportions

People have become so acclimated to 16:9 screens, that screens of similar proportion don’t even get a first glance:  People subconsciously identify “SCREEN!” in their peripheral vision and don’t focus their active attention on them, even once. 

LCD screens are now available in a huge variety of proportions, from square to ultra-elongated.  And LED screens are modular and can be assembled to any proportion or shape desired.  These alternate proportions immediately make more distinctive and attractive visual compositions.

2. Break the scale

Anything in the range of 40”-60” inches is frankly, just another TV.  Everyone has one in their homes and every business has them in their conference rooms.  Therefore people won’t pay them the slightest attention in other environments.

Going big, to the point where a digital surface becomes architectural in scale, can help immerse guests in content before they even recognize they’re looking at a screen. LCD screens of 80-100” in portrait orientation can display images of humans at 1:1 scale.  This immediately creates a more immersive presentation.  And modular LED signage can go to any size, forming complete architectural surfaces.

Conversely, going small represents another opportunity.  LCD screens configured in linear strips will soon be found fronting every individual shelf in grocery stores, placing in-store digital messaging right at the product.

3. Layer visual acuity

Humans have a 2° cone of vision that represents our active field of attention.   The remaining 100° of our vision is peripheral, which provides broad overall understanding of our environment at incredibly fast speed.  The sub-conscious nature and fast speed of peripheral vision is often ignored in architectural digital media installations.  Via your peripheral vision, you can become immersed in an experience before even consciously recognizing it.

The core problem with digital signage, as it is often deployed today, is that discrete high-resolution screens target only our extremely limited active-attention and are poorly suited for capturing our enormous peripheral-attention. 

Mixing high-resolution screens (e.g., HD or 4K resolution screens or fine-pitch LED screens) with medium resolution (e.g. digital projections or coarse-pitch LED) or low-resolution (e.g. architectural scale pixel walls, digital lighting, or other creative effects) can present distinctive visual effects at progressive distances.  This immediately breaks the knee-jerk perception of these surfaces as just a dumb screen that is not worth our precious active attention.

4. Create unified spatial experiences

The key difference between TVs and mobile devices versus architectural digital media is that architectural applications can become immersive, whereas discrete screens remain isolated and limited to only our acute vision.

Have you walked through a modern airport lately?  So many digital signs scream for our attention, that we simply tune out and ignore ALL of them.  The same effect happens in Times Square in New York.  But if everyone one of those digital surfaces suddenly presented a unified composition, everyone would stop and notice.

Architectural- or urban-scale compositions can be created using digital lighting/pixels/screens of various proportions, scales and resolution with mixed visual acuity.  These compositions immediately beg for a comprehensive content vision that exploits the individual pieces to create a unified experience for the occupants of a space.

5. Apply big-scale visual patterns

Overlaying graphics patterns or motion graphics effects at a big scale, across multiple displays creates dramatic visual impact.

There is a leap in scale from a typical TV screen to an enveloping architectural experience that dramatically changes the perception of digital content.  Even simplistic content becomes dramatic at an architectural scale.  For example, an old-school “screen saver” from a 13” screen becomes a jaw-dropping immersive visual experience at the scale of an architectural or urban surface.

And what about content?

How are you driving the experience?

Rather than resorting to “canned” media content, consider using live data or tailored, reactive media content to bring alive the digital architectural experience.  Check out my blog post discussing the future of such systems.

Koerner Design

Want help integrating digital media and interactivity into your retail, hospitality or corporate experiences?  Koerner Design helps our clients develop innovative new products, experiences and environments.  We are specialized in the intersection of architectural lighting and digital media systems and provide a range of services, including lighting design, product design, product marketing and business development. Contact me directly at brad [[at]] koernerdesign.com.