Data Visualization for Digital Signage: Inform to Influence Behavior

Wikipedia defines data visualization as “the study of the visual representation of data, meaning information which has been abstracted in some schematic form, including attributes or variables for the units of information”. Put into more basic terms for our purposes, data visualization is turning data into graphics that you can display on your digital signage.

According to Smashing Magazine, “The main goal of data visualization is its ability to visualize data, communicating information clearly and effectively. It doesn’t mean that data visualization needs to look boring to be functional or extremely sophisticated to look beautiful. To convey ideas effectively, both aesthetic form and functionality need to go hand in hand, providing insights into a rather sparse and complex data set by communicating its key aspects in a more intuitive way. Yet designers often tend to discard the balance between design and function, creating gorgeous data visualizations which fail to serve its main purpose — communicate information.”1

The most ubiquitous data visualizations are pie charts, graphs and tables. Other popular sources for visualization include maps, news, processes, connections, websites, timelines, and even music. You can visualize data, strategies, information, metaphors, or concepts. Regardless, all visualizations should summarize data, support and strengthen the information’s relevance, and communicate relationships in a fast, intuitive way.

To affect human behavior, the first step is to inform. If your audience isn’t aware of your goal, they can’t contribute toward its realization. Performance against goals starts with a baseline and informs your audience of progress: We are here … we want to be here.

People respond to visual measurements of progress. By showing how much has been achieved and how far there is to go, you can trigger various emotions and actions in people – motivation, competitiveness, charity, closure, desire for closure, etc. Setting a goal and showing people how they directly affect its outcome is the simplest, most effective way to spur them to action.

Performance statistics are a popular data set for visualizations delivered on digital signage. These types of visualizations can capture a wide variety of information – call center statistics, registration numbers, event attendance, poll and survey respondents, program contributions, sales, and more. The basic premise behind performance statistics is measuring performance against goals.

However, since we’re working with a dynamic medium in digital signage, you may want to use more than a static graphic to convey a message or data set to your audience. One terrific example is the energy dashboard.

This interactive visualization constantly updates and displays simple graphic representations of a building’s electricity, water, heating and cooling energy consumption. Cutting down environmental waste and the financial rewards associated with saving energy are great motivators for your audience. If they can see the resources they’re using, they can adjust their behavior accordingly to reduce consumption.

Oberlin College students used Building Dashboard® to rival their neighbors in the first real-time “dorm energy competition” on a college campus, in which residents could easily track energy consumption from a personal computer. During a competition in 2005, residents of the two dorms provided with high-resolution, real-time feedback reduced consumption by 55% and 56%, respectively, while dorms provided with medium-resolution feedback reduced by 32%. In two weeks, students conserved 68,000 kWh and saved $5,100. In a post-competition survey, dorm residents reported developing resource saving strategies that they intended to continue at Oberlin and elsewhere.2

This tool also lets administrators track and analyze energy spikes and trends. Because the dashboard is animated and can even be interactive, it captures attention, conveys the information in a pleasing manner, and leverages your digital signage for true dynamic content delivery. 

Whenever you’re designing visualizations, consider the context. What is the goal of the visualization? Is it strictly conveying statistics, is it meant to persuade, or does it aim to provoke emotion or behavior? Is it meant to communicate information for the first time or support a previous communication?

Like all visual communications, data visualizations should be designed within the context of your overall communications plan. Measurable goals should be set before you start the design and ROI should be investigated to determine your success.


  • Vitaly Friedman (2008) “Data Visualization and Infographics” in: Graphics, Monday Inspiration, January 14th, 2008.