Designing Content for Digital Signage: Back to Basics

We often forget that when we communicate we’re attempting to share something with someone else. It’s a mutual experience as opposed to a “push” system that merely sends information from one source to another. This is especially important when designing content for digital signage. You want to make sure you engage your audience so they understand your message and take the appropriate action.

Successful communication isn’t achieved by simply delivering information to an endpoint. It takes careful consideration when crafting the message and effort on the recipient’s part as well as the sender’s. Because we can’t control our audience’s viewing patterns, preconceptions or distractions, we have to work hard to break through those barriers to convey clear, unambiguous communications that will be both scrutinized and understood.

Poor communications in any form causes confusion and results in missed opportunities. In visual communications, we face the added challenge of delivering messages without personal contact or verbal dialog for clarification. Misinterpreted communications can cause more damage than if they are ignored. Our goal should be to ensure, not just that the audience receives the information, but that they understand the message as intended and then act accordingly.

This may seem rudimentary, but getting back to basics can clean up clumsy processes that produce poor communications. Messages can become static or unwelcome when we only consider one side of the equation: What do I need to say or show? During each phase of communications, we must also ask the opposing question: What do they need to know? 

  1. Distill what you need to convey to its simplest form
  2. Determine exactly what you want the viewer to take away from the communication
  3. Determine the best means to deliver the information
  4. Craft and deliver your message accordingly
  5. Follow up to be sure the recipient understood your communication accurately

Understanding the fundamental components of the communications process can improve success rates. Knowledge of the audience, the form and method of the message, and follow up all play a part in how communications are perceived.

Communicator 1
Establish a relationship with your audience by consistently delivering on-target, relevant messages that entertain and inform. Communicate your knowledge of your audience’s preferences and interests to gain buy in. (Notice we use “Communicator 1” and “Communicator 2”, instead of Sender and Recipient. Remember that communication is sharing, not pushing information.)

Include the basic information that you need to convey in its simplest form. Add only those elements that you’ve determined will (1) help the viewer clearly understand your message or (2) entice participation. Written tone and visual elements can greatly influence the perception of your communications. Emotional and motivational triggers set a specific context for understanding and audiences notice what is missing as much as what is included, so be sure to be careful and thorough. Keep it short. Keep it simple. Keep it clean (no errors).

What is the best way to convey the information? There are many methods available: face-to-face, telephone, email, Web, printed notices, posters, billboards, digital signage, text messaging, desktop messaging and more. Every method has its advantages and disadvantages. Consider the size of the message, the content, the necessary level of interaction and the environment when determining which method to use.

When and where will the audience receive the message? What other communications or outside influences will you be competing with? How can you ensure that your message stands out? The timing of your message, the delivery point and clutter from other communications should all be addressed in your strategy. Also consider the audience’s cultural and personal contexts when crafting your message.

Communicator 2
Your audience receives your communication. Your goal is for them to (1) notice the message, (2) give it attention, (3) understand the meaning clearly and (4) take whatever action you’ve requested. The second communicator always adds his or her own perceptions and mood to the process. Try to anticipate and work with or around these possible barriers to success.

Follow up
Solicit and analyze feedback. Measure understanding by looking at your audience’s actions: Did they perform the requested action? If not, was it due to poor response or poor understanding? Without follow up to measure the success of your communications, the process becomes the boring “push” method that benefits neither you nor your audience.