Inspire People with HCD for Organizational Digital Signage

People are at the heart of all communications in every kind of organization. That’s why it’s important to have some principles of Human-centered Design (HCD) in mind when crafting messages for organizational digital signage and planning information campaigns.

The HCD Design Kit

The company IDEO is one of the pioneers of HCD, and they break the process down into four stages: Inspiration, Ideation, Prototyping and Implementation. Looking at their website can give you some inspiration that you can turn into ideas that can become prototypes and get implemented. In this blog, we look at the first stage and how it can be applied to digital signage in your organization.


HCD says to “frame your design challenge”, so maybe we should say “frame your communication challenge”. For single messages, try to sum up the essential information in as few words as possible, then design the text around them. Ask yourself what you’re trying to get your audience to do, and think of several ways to communicate that. Make sure the important words are accented in some way – bold text, slightly larger font, placed in area of the screen where the eye naturally goes, etc. Would a picture help communicate some of what you want to say? You want your message to have maximum impact, so craft it wisely. Then think about when to schedule it in the playlist – what the best time of day for this message is, how often it should be displayed in an hour, if it should only go to certain screens, etc.

When designing an entire implementation, use the same ideas to decide where to put displays, what kind and what size, and so on. How do you want people to interact with your digital signs in, say, the lobby? Would a big video wall be best, or would a series of smaller screens and interactive kiosks further your overall aims better?

Another part of this stage of HCD is asking the Five Whys. This is applicable when improving your digital signage offering. Are people following your calls-to-action? Why or why not? And ask why multiple times – drill down to get to the nut of the issue, and find out why certain messages that succeed work and how you can apply those lessons to ones that don’t work so well. You might have to keep asking why four or five times.

There’s a nice idea at this stage of giving people cameras before interviewing them, asking them to take snaps of everyday dynamics and moments (or asking them to use their phone cameras). Getting a few people to walk around and snap a picture each time they see something appealing on your displays could be a great way to get feedback on what’s effective and what isn’t. Ask them to photograph things they like, but also things they don’t. Then discuss the pictures they, and others, took when interviewing them.

You also want to talk to people – your audience as well as the people who create and schedule your content. If it’s feasible to talk one-on-one with people, do so. If not, create a feedback system so people can tell you what works, what doesn’t, and what they like and don’t like. People are the focus of digital communications, so let the people be your inspiration. Ultimately, they are the judges of whether something is successful or not.

When you involve people in your digital communications strategy, make sure it’s fun and not a chore, or yet another directive from on high. After going through the process a couple of times, they should be looking forward to the next chance to talk with you instead of dreading it.

No more than three people should be conducting the interview, and each person who is there should have a clear role (this one asks the questions, this one takes notes, etc.) Make sure the interview takes place on neutral ground – no one wants memories of being sent to the principal’s office. Group interviews can also be highly effective – people will bounce ideas off one another, and they may feel more at ease in a group. If you have more than one interviewee at a time, have a strategy for encouraging quieter members to share their insights and impressions. Try to have a range of types when conducting interviews, power users and part-timers alike, so you can get the broadest picture possible about how effective your communications are.

Gamification is a great way to get people interacting with your message content. Tweaking your calls-to-action so they’re presented as part of a contest of some sort (or a race against other people or teams) will get people’s competitive spirit up. Having tangible prizes of value at the end of a “game” also encourages people to take part. Another benefit of gamification is that it builds a sense of community among everyone who knows about it – not just those who actually take part, but even people who are around in the background; they hear others talking about the game, or the prizes, or laughing about how fun something is, and it allows them to share in the experience. They might even be encouraged to actively participate in a future game, once they see how much people enjoy it.

The real point here is to inspire your audience – not just wow them with stunning visuals, but make them all fans of your digital signage system. Allowing them to interact with the admin side of things by creating content to be scheduled, or by providing feedback to content creators, gets them thinking about the whole system more. And the more it’s on their minds, the more attention they will pay it. Even technophobes will start to shift their opinions – instead of screens everywhere, pushing content out at them in a Big Brother-type way, they’ll start to see that communication is a two-way street, and that they also have valuable things to contribute to the ongoing conversation your digital signage enables.

Digital signage is an unprecedented tool for reaching people, and can help knit an organization into a community when you apply some of the principles of Human-centered Design.

Our next blog looks at the second HCD stage: Ideation.