Digital Signage

7 Tips for Better Digital Signage Content

What are you doing to reach your campus community in today's digital age? These key considerations will help get your digital signage message across more effectively.

At the University of Michigan's Shapiro Undergraduate Library, digital signs are used as "exhibits" that are updated monthly. (photo by Christopher Gardner)

It seems like a lifetime ago when students would turn to a corkboard at the end of a hallway in a dorm or common area for information about what was happening around campus. It was easy enough to post new content, information could be location-relevant, and students could simply tear off a phone number to follow up on something they read on the board.

Nowadays, digital signs are part of new construction building plans, and are steadily becoming the new corkboard medium. Instead of having to design content, print it and physically deliver it to each strategically placed corkboard around campus, we can now automate the process in "real time" with digital signage technology. Additionally, more and more software applications are being developed to accommodate touchscreens, and Web sites are being designed for content consumption. These design trends increase the potential for an enhanced user experience with regard to digital signage.

Based on our experience at the University of Michigan, planning and designing sign content has proven to be more important than any other aspect of digital signage. In order to effectively reach your campus community, here are some things you need to consider.

1) Encourage Marketing and IT to Collaborate on Content
Through networking events and conferences, I've seen many cases where digital signage support fell under the umbrella of "marketing and communications" and other cases where it fell under "IT services." What we've learned at Michigan is that it takes participation from both groups to produce the most effective digital signs. My role has often served as a liaison between the two, facilitating the sign design process — which has consisted of meeting with a unit, asking a lot of questions, and then teaching them how to use the digital signage software to accomplish their goals.

2) Ask the Right Questions
It's important to think about the specifics of a digital sign's placement, purpose and content design. For example, if a unit is designing a digital sign for the lobby of a dorm that primarily houses engineering students on north campus, then the digital sign should be in a location within the building that is easily accessible to residents and visitors. Pertinent questions would include:

  • What type of sign do you have now?
  • Is it static or interactive?
  • In the case of displaying the events feed, do you want users to be able to interact with the sign to scroll through events?
  • Should users be able to drill down on a specific event to obtain more information?
  • Does the sign look touchable?
  • What about adding a QR code to make the information portable?

Learn More

Next month at Digital Signage Expo 2016, author Amanda Grabowski will present a Roundtable entitled "Digital Signage in a Digital Age: What Are You Doing to Reach Your Campus Community" (Wednesday, March 16 from 2:00-3:00 p.m. at the Las Vegas Convention Center). For more information on this or any educational program offered at DSE 2016 or to learn more about digital signage, go to www.dse2016.com.

3) Know Your Audience
Studies have shown that there is only a brief opportunity — one to five seconds — to get your message across to a person who is "just passing by" a sign. If your message is captivating enough to catch their attention, there is a good chance they will become engaged, which will only happen if the shared information is relevant to the people who are passing by. This is why timing and relevance are key. In the example of the digital sign in the lobby of the engineering dorm, are there specific events that would be of particular interest to engineering students? Are there events nearby that might be relevant based on topic? What about events in the building?

4) Make It Accessible
Digital signage should embrace accessibility. This includes font (size, type, color), images, text alignment and placement of any touchable elements. There are lots of best practices documented for digital signage, but it is important to design a sign that will be accessible and usable by just about anyone, regardless of physical challenges.

5) Incorporate Live Data
Data feeds provide a mechanism for delivering frequently changing, "real-time" content to digital signs. For example, the University of Michigan the Office of Student Life manages an events calendar Web site called "Happening @ Michigan" that provides data for all campus events. In January of 2016 alone, the site had 477,300 hits, proving itself to be an extremely useful tool for the campus community. To help students find the events most relevant to their interests, the Happening @ Michigan site offers multiple ways for users to search and filter events using event type, group or location. It also accommodates RSS, iCal and JSON data feed formats. Those same functions can be used by digital signs to display location-specific event information, making the sign content more relevant, eye-catching and interactive. Of course, that requires digital signage software that can connect to a data source and provide the ability to format and display data from that source, a feature that comes with most digital signage software today.

6) Keep It Fresh
While data feeds will help to keep information current, attention must be paid to all content on a digital sign, so that it is frequently changed and refreshed — conditioning users that they can rely on the information displayed to be current.

7) Track Results
There are many ways to measure the effectiveness of your sign content. For example, the survey software Qualtrics recently implemented a touch-friendly survey capability. While it's primarily designed for mobile devices and tablets, after testing we determined that surveys could also be facilitated through displays on an interactive touchscreen digital sign. A survey can be configured to display questions where users can touch the answer they want, and the software records the data and sends reports based on activity.

As new technology continues to emerge, the design and integration possibilities for digital signage are endless — and by making sure the aforementioned considerations are addressed, your message will no doubt effectively reach the campus community.

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