The Message Matters – Top Digital Signage Text Tips

Your digital signage solution is great – it’s visual, it’s dynamic, it grabs attention and helps get your message across to your audience wherever they are. But the message is really what matters, and having good, clear and easy-to-read copy needs to be the cornerstone of every digital signage message. So, we’re giving you our experts’ top digital signage text tips.

If people can’t read what you’ve written, it doesn’t matter how clever your copy is. Readability is key, especially from a distance. Sans-serif fonts work better for digital formats, with high contrast between the text and the background.

Tailor your font sizes to the distance you want people to start taking in your message. A basic rule of thumb is that one point of font is clearly visible from about 4 1/2 inches away, so…

  • 20-point font is easily seen from seven feet away
  • 50-point from 18 feet
  • 100-point from 36 feet, and so on.

But don’t use 50-point font in a small area with only seven feet of space from the display – people will also have a hard time reading that. And don’t use all caps – it doesn’t end up emphasizing anything because you’re emphasizing everything. Feel free to use caps, bold or italics sparingly for emphasis. And varying font sizes in a single message can also draw the eye to something important, provided you don’t overdo it.

You probably know the K.I.S.S. Rule – Keep it Short and Simple. You probably only have 3-6 seconds to communicate your message, so the less on the screen, the better. Take a lesson from research conducted by Facebook – shorter posts there get more than 60% more engagement and almost 25% more interaction. Try to keep messages to 22 characters or less whenever possible. When aligning lines of text, use the 3×5 rule – either three lines of five words each, or five lines of three words each.

When thinking of what kinds of sentences to use, most of your messages should use declarative statements, with imperatives less often and interrogatives last. For example:

  1. We have a new app. (declarative)
  2. Download the app today. (imperative)
  3. Do you have the app? (interrogative)

Unlike with social media, where they get 100% more responses, questions are not great for digital signage – people start thinking of an answer and no longer pay attention to the screen. When the next message in the playlist comes up, the opportunity to communicate your original point is gone.

You also need not be grammatically complete – newspaper headline style is fine, provided it’s clear. But actual grammatical mistakes detract from the authority of your message.

The human brain arranges information into groups and patterns for easy recall, so do the same with your text. Chunking information works well, since it’s also how the brain codes information for storage – 545 212 897 is easier to remember than 545212897. Repetition and parallelism are very useful tools for crafting digital signage messages – things like “Do it right – do it now” or “Help us and we can help you”.

The rule of three is also good to remember. People remember things in pairs or threes even better than they do single items. Repeating particular phrases or word combinations two or three times in a row (in messages close to one another in the playlist, for example) also helps lock the phrase into short-term memory.

Alliteration and rhymes also work well in getting your content into people’s heads. Similes and metaphors can also be effective if they are apt or original. Humor is also great, and English-speakers tend to remember puns (even if they don’t always like them).

Try to communicate one thing per message, or two at max. More than that is just too much for the eye and brain to handle in a short time window. If you have more to say, link three 5-second bits together to create a “story“15 seconds long.

Don’t show long lists – they just become visual noise in a digital signage message. If you do have a list, put the most important things at the top and the bottom – the middle gets muddled. This is called the serial position effect, and stats show that people remember the first and last items in a list twice as often as the things in the middle.

The passive voice is best left unused, as it is a bit muddy. Plus, it’s invariably longer. (For example, we should have said “Don’t use passive voice.”)

Avoid using your brand name in digital signage messages – either they already know who you are and you are wasting valuable space on the screen, or you want them to get curious and find out more about you (follow a call to action like “go to a website”, for example). Plus, it comes across as marketing rather than the engaging informational vehicle you want your digital signage to be.

You must have a call to action. An instruction like “go here now” is better than something weaker like “try it out today, if interested”. And it’s shorter. Start your call to action with a verb, and keep the verb and object close together in the sentence (so: “order your coffee at the café” instead of “order at the café to get your coffee”). Either show your call to action the whole time or repeat it several times, so it has a chance to lock into people’s memories.

Be careful that you create a context that makes sense for your message, even consider where to place the words on the screen for maximum effect. Beware of attention vampires – you may have found a really compelling image that makes people want to look at it a while, but that means they aren’t reading your text. All they’ll remember is the image.

The message is the whole point of your digital signage, so make sure it is clear, easy to read, and all other elements on the screen are there to support the message. You aren’t making art here, you’re communicating valuable information to people who are walking past your screens while doing or thinking about something else.

What’s the best way to test out how effective your messages are? Walk around the space while talking to someone, or listening to music or a podcast on your headphones, and see what you notice and remember, and what you don’t.

Need more digital sign design tips? Download our free white paper here.