Use HCD Ideation for New Signage Ideas

In a tech-driven world, it’s easy to forget that everything we do is about people communicating with people. Human-centered Design (HCD) is a framework for putting people back where they belong – at the center of any communications strategy. There are four stages to HCD: Inspiration, Ideation, Prototyping and Implementation. In the first blog in this series, we looked at how the Inspiration phase can be used with your digital signage solution. This blog looks at the Ideation stage and how it can be applied to generate new signage ideas for any type of organization – signage for schools, workplace digital signage, waiting room signage, or government digital signage.

You’ve already found ways to get inspired in new directions, as well as inspire others, so now it’s time for Ideation – giving form to your ideas and concepts. More specifically, how will all your wonderful ideas actually be presented in the real world? What steps need to be taken to turn ideas into a working prototype – in the case of digital signage, messages that have maximum impact and engagement.

In the first step, Inspiration, you gathered a lot of information – data, pictures, quotes, impressions, interviews, etc.  Now it’s time to Download Your Learnings (but not with computers). Get your team together and sit in a circle. Each team member shares the basics of the information they gathered on Post-It notes, as well as details as to how they gathered that information and who from. As more team members report, the Post-It notes are put on a board where everyone can see them, grouped in a way that show their similarities and connections. In this way, all the information begins to come together in a way that can be useful. It’s best to do this when impressions are still fresh.

Then the group as a whole begins to Bundle the ideas into solutions – maybe two or three ideas can be combined into one more complex theme. As you do this, more patterns and themes will emerge. Workable solutions will begin to become apparent, and can now be turned into elements in a single system that furthers your overall goals.

As individual ideas begin to fit into larger patterns, it may help you to draw some of them. Things like charts, Venn diagrams or matrices can make things clearer, and so easier to work with as your shape your Frameworks

You want to take all the ideas you’ve bundled and refine them into Concepts. A Concept is something you can turn into a workable real-world solution. Think of things in terms of answering the question “How might we…?” The results of this process will drive everything else in this stage.

So, let’s say that some of the information gathered in the first step includes:

  • Pictures of hard to see displays (because they are too high or get mid-afternoon glare)
  • Quotes from interviewees about previous messages and campaigns they remember that indicate that having high contrast colors and text draws their eye more
  • Further quotes that show they remember funny mascots and characters created in previous communications efforts
  • A lack of pictures or comments about messages that you thought would be effective (which tells you that they aren’t)
  • Observational records that show that people stop when they see video or movement on the screens
  • Complicated graphs and charts don’t seem to register with your audience
  • Longer campaigns (a linked series of messages displayed over time) are more memorable to your audience than single messages

One of your team’s goals this month is to reduce power usage in the main building. By assembling all the above information into clusters, you can see that one way to do that might be to create a mascot, say a smiling light bulb, to guide your audience through simple explanations of when to turn off lights and equipment, how to set electronic devices to enter energy saving mode, and why these are good ideas. You can see from the information you’ve gathered that complicated graphs of power usage would be a less effective way to reach your audience than these simpler messages. And pictures with slight movement, cinemagraphs or very short video clips will probably be more effective and engaging than just still images.

Of course, if you found instead that graphs and charts are more appealing to your audience than cute characters, then you would know that you should incorporate those into your digital signage offering. (Perhaps you could even incorporate real-time data in an attractive dashboard display.)

Another useful tool is to look at an overall goal, and then list all the barriers that can prevent that goal from being realized. What limitations get in the way? Have a brainstorm session about how to marry your overarching goals with the realities of your environment and resources. This is also a good way to find out that some specific ideas won’t work – it’s okay to let them go and focus on what is achievable.

Mash-Ups are a great way to stimulate thinking. You ask yourself what it would be like if one thing were like another. For example, if you want more people going to the on-site café, and you also find that your audience seems to prefer Instagram to other forms of social media, then you might ask “What would an Instagram version of a café look like and do?” Combining seemingly disparate concepts into one can stimulate a lot of innovative and creative ideas.

You need to isolate one quality from this Mash-Up that you can add to your overall solution. In the example of the Instagram Café, maybe it would be the ability to share information (specifically pictures), or to add filters to things (which could translate as more options to individualize orders at the café). Or it could be just about some great food and drinks photos (shareable, could be turned into a gamified solution in which the best pic of the day gets a free drink). Be bold, be wacky – this is outside-the-box thinking.

And always be thinking visually. Is there an image you can use to further your goals rather than words? How will it all look on the different types of digital signs you’re using? What have people told you attracts them, and what do they remember? Design for them, not for you.

With your designers and content creators, who are people, working with the information taken from the audience, who are also people, you can be sure that you are crafting digital signage messages that will engage and increase participation and engagement.

In our next blog, we’ll look at HCD Prototyping and Implementation.