Digital Signage Design Primer 1 – Basic Foundations

EPISODE 7 | Guest: Jill Perardi, creative services manager for Visix

People are busy. People are distracted. How will you get them to look at your screens, digest what’s there, remember it and take action?

A good digital signage design plan is a lot more than fonts and colors. This unique medium requires a different mindset and skillset than print and other traditional design types. Before you launch Photoshop or pick a PowerPoint template, you need to understand what motivates your audience and how different designs may attract or repel them.

In this podcast, we’ll review some design psychology and trends to help you build a solid foundation. By better understanding your audience and using proven design practices, you can avoid common mistakes and create content that will engage and excite your viewers.

  • Learn why content planning and good design matters for audience engagement
  • Understand how design for digital signage is unique and how it differs from print design
  • Discover the psychology behind design – colors, emotional triggers and core values
  • Explore design trends and some tried-and-true design practices
  • Get tips for including an effective call to action in every design
  • Avoid eight common digital signage design mistakes

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Learn more about this topic in our Masterclass Guide 4: Digital Signage Design


Derek DeWitt:  People are busy. People are distracted. How do you get them to look at your screens and digest what’s there, and remember it and take action? I’m here with Jill Perardi, creative services manager for Visix. Hi Jill.

Jill Perardi: Hi Derek.

Derek DeWitt:  Thank you for coming on the podcast, and thanks everybody for listening.

Derek DeWitt: We’re going to talk about design tips, more practical design tips, in a later podcast. But I think first it’s maybe important to understand why good design matters and how different designs affect different viewers, if you know what I mean. Because there’s a lot of psychology that goes into design. So without that kind of foundation, I think you can’t really address your design goals. So start us off – what are your thoughts on this?

Jill Perardi: Well, we will talk in this podcast all about that, but I think the most important thing to even start off with – to even determine why your good design would matter – is what do you even want to show on your screens?

I talk to clients all the time here at Visix that we’re helping with their design. We’re giving them that jumping off point to help them come up with good designs going forward. But really you have to plan first, before the purchase even. Find out what your content team, the people that are going to be responsible for the day-to-day, what are they going to put on the screens? You have to know that first, because if you don’t know that, you can design a million things as beautifully and well-designed and thoughtful and useful as possible, but if it’s not really what you want to have on the screens, if you’re not achieving your goal for the purchase or what you want to convey, it doesn’t matter how good it works – no one’s going to look at it. And I know that’s not the point of today’s podcast…

Derek DeWitt:  No, but I think that’s a valid point.

Jill Perardi: It is. For me, it’s really important to know what you want to put out there so then you can come up with that good design.

Derek DeWitt:   Uh-huh. So, planning. I mean, I think that’s always the case – planning is always something vital.

Jill Perardi: It is, but oftentimes the software is purchased by a technology team. And I get to talk to the marketing folks or the brand team

Derek DeWitt:  Or the people who are making the content?

Jill Perardi: Yeah, exactly. So it seems like – it is vital and it seems like it would be the natural progression, but it’s not always. The people that are responsible for coming up with the content aren’t necessarily involved in the presale.

Derek DeWitt:   Right. So there’s sometimes a disconnect between the left hand know not what the right hand doeth. I know a lot of people complain about a company or organizational will buy the digital signage, put their people in charge, they think it’s all done and then they walk around and the content’s just ugly or boring. I think one of the reasons is maybe because they’re not designing for digital signage, they’re thinking digital signage is just another way to do the same old same old. And it is a unique medium. So, talk about what is it that makes digital signage so unique?

Jill Perardi: For one, you have to think about your audience. It is a moving target. Your audience typically is for digital signage. You could have your digital signage in a waiting room – in maybe a healthcare environment and you know that you’re going to have people sitting there, and they’re going to be staring at the screen – but you have a moving target for sure.

Really, you have to compete with phones. Our phones are in our hands 24/7. You have to compete with that. You have to get your message across effectively in just seven seconds, ideally, or less or maybe a little more, depending on what your message is. But you don’t want to go 15 seconds for something that just doesn’t need that amount of time. You need to prompt your users to do something then when they see this message. But it’s a moving target. It’s different than a print sign. And you have to keep the content fresh and keep it moving, because you’re moving onto the next message in 7-10 seconds, let’s say.

Derek DeWitt:  Well, one of the things that we talk about and we write about is – I mean, yes, I know a poster is visual and obviously a TV ad is visual, and things like this – but there’s something about this particularly that’s so visual. Because humans are, 90% of the information the brain processes is visual. And then, movement and video seems to attract a lot of attention very, very quickly and helps with retention.

Jill Perardi: Absolutely. So, the group Arbitron, they did a study that said 70% of Americans remember seeing a video on a digital sign somewhere in the past month. Of that group, 47% of those recalled seeing what the video was promoting. They remembered. So we are a visual group, and video – that movement – it catches the eye and it captures attention. I mentioned a while ago, have that call to action on it, and I think we’ll probably talk more about that. But, it’s really important because people are going to remember your message. They are going to see that video, and they’re going to retain it, hopefully with good design.

Derek DeWitt:  Yes. It’s fascinating actually. I mean, especially – and I’m not picking on the older people because I’m approaching that age myself – I think a lot of people think of it as just like, “Oh it’s just an electronic brochure or poster.” And it’s not, you know. It’s a totally different kind of a medium, in what ways?

Jill Perardi: Yeah, absolutely. If you think about just a poster in general, I mean, you’ve got to have someone that’s going to have to put it up and take it down. And we all know if you walk by a bulletin board in a college campus, a hospital, anywhere where they’re putting up a lot of messages, they’re so out of date because the person puts it up, but then they don’t remember to go back and take it down.

And maybe it’s promoting an event, and you only need to promote it certain times of the day because only people that are coming through your facility at that time of the day are going to see that, or it pertains to them. Well, you’re not going to have someone walk down the hallway and grab a poster and put it up and down every so many hours.

Derek DeWitt:  I’d like to see that.

Jill Perardi: Yeah, exactly. And digital signage design, it’s great because you can create a whole campaign out of that. It doesn’t just have to be… Well, for example, here in our own offices, we do a big food drive campaign every fall. And we do a series of messages for them. Yes, they all look similar, they’re a campaign, but they all have a little bit different of a detail or another reason why you’d want to give – a different stat here, a different color there. And it catches the eye every time you walk down our hallways. Because as you can imagine here, we have a ton of displays in our building. You know, every time you walk down the hallway, you’re seeing something different. It’s not a poster on a wall that’s expired, that’s crinkling…

Derek DeWitt: Getting sunlight fade…

Jill Perardi: Absolutely. Add a quick audio clip to it just to politely capture attention when you’re walking by. Your poster can’t do that. And quite frankly, the phrase “electronic poster” really can’t do that either. You’ve got to have more than that.

Derek DeWitt: It’s a totally different medium.

Jill Perardi: Absolutely, and quite frankly, when you build onto taking that concept of a poster and turning it digital, I mean think about all the other options, the doors that could open out of this. You could go into the path of coming up with interactive content. You can add your social media feed to capture attention. You could – gamification is a big buzzword these days and a big thing that works in marketing. You can start to add those things to your digital signage, and that’s far more than just an electronic poster.

Derek DeWitt: It’s dynamic, is the interesting part about it. We talk about sort of the psychology of design. I know that there’s been a lot of work done about colors, and how they may or may not affect people’s emotions or moods. I don’t know how much of that is inherent, how much of that is cultural conditioning? Does it really matter for people who are designing for digital signage?

Jill Perardi: No, I think it absolutely matters. I mean, if we start with color, for example, yellow and gold supposedly brings out emotions of optimism, clarity, warmth. You think about a nice sunny day, you think about yellow sunshine.

You know when you’re a kid and playing with crayons, yellow is your bright, you’re fun, you’re exciting color. Well, if you’re putting a message out there that maybe doesn’t need to convey that, don’t make it yellow. But on the opposite of the spectrum, if you are trying to put out a really positive, bright message – and I say bright in feeling not necessarily in color, like this is an exciting message that I need to get out – do I want it to be grey and black? Probably not. So, there’s definitely reasons and thinking into color.

Of course I used yellow as an example. I’ve also heard that yellow’s considered the color of insanity. So, maybe think about who you’re designing for, right?

Derek DeWitt: A mental health facility…

Jill Perardi: Exactly. But we do a lot of work with interactive wayfinding, which are basically an interactive way to navigate a building or a campus through maps. And if you think about it, color is really important there, it’s the same thing here. If we’re putting icons on maps for bathrooms, well, when you walk into a building, you typically see that bathroom icon colors are blue. So use that, because it’s a commonly-associated color, blue with bathrooms, green with a recycling symbol.

Derek DeWitt: Same with the handicapped symbol.

Jill Perardi: Absolutely – and red with emergency. So, if you’re designing a message that’s not urgent, maybe don’t use red and save it for that. So there’s definitely thought into color. You have to put a lot of thought into it.

Derek DeWitt: Hmm. There are cultural elements too nowadays is “Blue is for boys, pink is for girls.” But you know, that didn’t happen until the 1940s. Actually, the color in Victorian England and even in the United States, late 19th century, early 20th century, the color for boys was pink. And then some advertisers – I can’t remember who they were – but they decided, “You know what, let’s make it blue.” And now this is that kind of a cultural thing as well. So, I think also when you’re, when you’re thinking of – like in China, red is the color of prosperity and wealth and things like this – so you have to also take that into account, I think, when thinking about colors.

Jill Perardi: Yeah, absolutely. There’s, I mean there’s real emotion and real reaction to color.

Derek DeWitt: You mentioned you could throw in a sound clip – talk about how sound might affect us emotionally.

Jill Perardi: I will say, be cautious on sound in your digital signage. If your digital signage – I’m going to use that waiting room example again – if you have the sound clip running over and over and over, and you’ve got a receptionist sitting there and you’ve got people in a waiting room – you don’t want it really loud. You don’t want to drive them crazy by them hearing the same thing.

But audio can be really pleasing to the human ear. I mean, there’s apps out there for people to fall asleep to running water and thunderclouds and a baby laughing. There’s audio apps out there just because it relaxes people. You can use that same type of audio as a quick clip in your message. Now maybe it is an urgent message you’re trying to show – sure, throw an explosion or an air horn in there, but do so at your own risk. But people have emotional triggers to sound. It’s soothing, it’s relaxing, it’s calming or it’s attention-grabbing. And so, when you add that to your digital signage message, it can really help get your point across with a little bit of audio.

Derek DeWitt: So, judicious usage.

Jill Perardi: Absolutely.

Derek DeWitt: You can imagine, if you’re a receptionist and you have to hear that sound every five minutes for their whole day, you’d want to kill yourself.

Jill Perardi: Yep, absolutely. And to kind of add to that, Derek, I recently had a call with – and this has nothing to do with audio, but just emotional thought for messaging. I had a call with a k-12 school, and we’re helping them create some launch content. And it was one of the best calls I’ve had in a while. I really enjoyed it because not only did they have the administrators in there and the content creators, they had students – sixth, seventh and eighth graders, boys and girls. And at the end of the call I said, “If you guys don’t mind, can I talk to your students and ask them a question?” And I said, “What do you want to see on the screen? It doesn’t mean your teachers are going to make this happen, but what do you want to see on the screen?”

So, they had the normal things, right. You know, how did the football team do on Friday? And tell me about this upcoming event. What do I need to remind my parents to sign? But then they all said, school is hard. Being a preteen, a tween is hard and they wanted motivational quotes to help get them through the day. So nothing is more emotional than a sixth, seventh, or eighth grader who needs help getting through the day and just wants that little “you can do it” – a boost. And so really, when you’re designing, and if you design for something that specific or depending where your audience is, really keep color in mind, keep emotional triggers in mind. You’re not going to want a black “you can do it” message.

Derek DeWitt: Jagged angles…

Jill Perardi: Yeah. You’re going to want a pretty picture of a waterfall or something to go along with it. You’re going to want a green soothing color. You’re not a psychologist as a designer, nor should you have to be, but just put yourself in the audience’s shoes for a minute. What would soothe you? What would help you walk down that hallway to science class?

Derek DeWitt: Or, perk you up?

Jill Perardi: Yeah, absolutely.

Derek DeWitt: Or even, I can imagine – like you were saying, yellow is kind of warm color – imagining a place like Seattle where it rains all the time. There’s a school, it’s raining. It’s been raining for five days. And because you can change your content so quickly on digital signage, you could just go, “You know what, let’s do the yellow messages today because it’s brighter.” And people will maybe even be drawn to it because the day is so grey and kind of nasty out.

Jill Perardi: Yup, absolutely. And, yes it’s dynamic. You can change it rather quickly.

Derek DeWitt: Let’s talk a little bit about appealing to people’s values. We’re kind of moving up from say, the lizard brain, from the emotional level up to now their moral centers and things like this. Can we activate this? I mean, these kids are saying they want motivational messages to inspire them throughout the day. How else can we use messages to get across what we want to get across, but also appeal to these sort of values?

Jill Perardi: I mean, your messaging can be a performance driver. You can appeal to people’s values in your design, whether that be colors and images and that sort of thing. But think about your audience as a designer. Really, it’s not about you, you’re not the audience. And think about your audience, where your displays are located, and what basic desires might exist for your audience.

You may be designing for a cry room at your Mormon Tabernacle, so family might be a basic value. And I know that’s kind of a random thought, but think about who’s looking at this and what’s important to them. I mean, we have clients here at Visix ; police departments –  what’s the basic value that they want to pull on?

Derek DeWitt: Protection?

Jill Perardi: Yeah. Maybe you want to help someone get on a new path with your digital signage. Think about honor. Think about maybe a little bit of power. Think about tranquility to turn their life around. So, I know that sounds a little far-fetched and a little out there, but do think about your audience and their core values.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, that’s an interesting thought, to try and think about what might be important in this particular location, for this particular client, from this particular audience. And then there are your more universal things, like everybody needs to eat. Who doesn’t like a picture of food? Come on, look at that nice food, we like that!

Let’s talk about some of the trends that are happening in design today. I mean, obviously you’ve got your big heavy hitters like Microsoft. Microsoft basically said, “We’re going flat design.” And then everybody went, “Okay, flat design. Everybody’s doing flat design. That’s cool.”

Jill Perardi: It happens here. You know, clients will come back to us and start to say, “I think we want it to look like this app icon on my phone.” And quite frankly, with social media, Instagram and Pinterest, I mean, what a great place to get ideas of what’s going on in visual design today. And I love getting to speak to somebody that has that idea, because they’ve seen something that appeals to them. And that’s typically based on a new trend, whether it’s flat design or colors or shapes, or Pantone has a color of the year. Or, recently every home interior photo you see is now painted with a light grey as opposed to 10 years ago, 15 years ago, it was a light brown.

And also, where is your building located? I read recently that a lot of corporations that have businesses in city environments, where it might be a little bit of a concrete jungle, in their office design, they’re bringing in a lot of greens, a lot of natural materials, a lot of woods to try to make it feel like you’re in less of a concrete jungle than you are. And in these suburban office environments, they were trying to go that more sleek and modern approach to try and make you feel like you were in some cool city space.

And your digital signage can play on that. You know, not every digital sign has to have a certain color, your message doesn’t all, they don’t all have to be green or whatever. The color is designed for the aesthetics around you. And if your office space is new and on trend, carry that trend through in your messaging.

Derek DeWitt: I think a lot of people would argue, “Yeah, but design is subjective. You like this, you like pink. I don’t like pink”, and this. And I don’t know. I feel like to a certain extent, yes, that’s true. It’s just like say with, I like a lot of cooking shows. l watch a lot of food shows. And the thing that impresses me about these high-end chefs is that they can be on the other side of the kitchen, and they’ll look at a steak and they go, “That’s not cooked right.” And yeah, you may like it well done or whatever, but that’s not the right way to cook it. You can eat it that way. I mean, aren’t there some universal design truths, kind of, that all designers kind of hold like, for example, form follows function, things like this, right?

Jill Perardi: Yeah, most definitely. I mean fonts for example, text – make it clear and legible. Make sure you’re using the right font choice – less than two or three – because it’s going to be so busy otherwise. Make sure that you have the negative space, for example, so your eye is actually being drawn to the best place.

Derek DeWitt: Don’t make it too busy.

Jill Perardi: Yeah, absolutely. Design is subjective, but you also know that three or four fonts on that messaging is too busy. You also know that the calligraphy font is difficult for people to read.

Derek DeWitt: Especially at a distance.

Jill Perardi: Yeah, absolutely. So yes, there are rules, as far as things like negative space and font types and form follows function, and they need to be followed. And, like your steak example, design is subjective. I don’t like pink, but I can read that. And it drew my eye to the headline or it drew my eye to the call to action.

Derek DeWitt: Which is the point. Yeah. And just as a sidebar, we’re talking about fonts. Comic sans is always a crime. Don’t use it ever. There’s actually a website called Comic Sans is a Crime [correction:] which I quite like.

Jill Perardi: Have you seen the Saturday night live skit for Papyrus?

Derek DeWitt: No, I haven’t watched SNL in years.

Jill Perardi: It’s fantastic; any designer listening to this, if you have not seen it, look it up: “SNL Papyrus font_ – it is worth the watch. It’s hilarious. (

Derek DeWitt: All right, so let’s talk about, you’ve mentioned now several times, call to action, call to action, call to action. And that’s a very nice phrase. What does it mean? Why is it so important? Tell me about this, and how does that tie into how I think of my things in terms of design?

Jill Perardi: Well, the call to action is basically getting your audience to act on whatever your digital signage message is promoting. You are wanting them to do something as a result of seeing your beautifully-, well-designed message. You want to get people to your event. You want to remind your employees and encourage them to sign up for their 401(k) benefits.

Let’s say you’ve designed a menu board. You want people to snap a picture, go to a website, scan something and show up at the register and go, “I have this discount code that I got off of your well-designed menu board. I saw that call to action.”

Derek DeWitt: Right, and now their using your on-site facility and you’re making money.

Jill Perardi: Absolutely. And then, you want to have a URL – you want to have something that allows people to go somewhere else. Some really common call to actions in digital signage would be a ‘snap a picture and show it to somebody’ type of scenario. Take a picture of this, take it to the counter and you get a free t-shirt.

Derek DeWitt:   Okay, but what about this? Because, I was talking to somebody about this not that long ago, and the argument that was made back was, “What’s to prevent one person from taking that picture and then just sharing it with all their friends?” To which I said, “I don’t think it matters.”

Jill Perardi: Yeah.

Derek DeWitt: Who cares?

Jill Perardi: That’s what I just thought when you asked that question.

Derek DeWitt: They’re all going there to eat your cookie, and you sold a bunch of cookies. Who cares if they actually took the picture on the sign or not? One person did, and they shared it among their friends.

Jill Perardi: Well, one person shared it, so now everyone knows that that sign is there, and they’re going to go back because, if they’re a college student and they can get a free cookie, they’re going to go back and look at that sign every week and see what free piece of food can I get today. So, throw up some additional messaging on that display while you’re there, and convey other information while you know those eyes are looking at it. I don’t see a problem with that, but that’s just me.

But yeah, I mean, there’s fun other ways to have calls to action. I mean, go a little untraditional. If it’s a thermometer to show how much money you’ve raised, – you’ve seen the thermometers, they get taller and taller and taller with some money raised.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, these data visualizations.

Jill Perardi: Yep. And so, you’re trying to raise money for some campaign? You’re going to have the call to action to be sure to contact Derek to donate, or go to this website to donate, but create your signage to have this filling thermometer as well. So then, people can see, “Oh man, when I walked by this last week, it was only half full. And now look how many people have given. Yeah, I better give. I want to see it move.” So, make a fun way to have that call to action as well. Of course tell people where to go, but then have your design entice them to want to give.

Derek DeWitt: What about QR codes? I read somewhere that 2019 is the year that the United States finally starts using QR codes.

Jill Perardi: Huh! That’s interesting.

Derek DeWitt: Because they’ve been using them elsewhere for years.

Jill Perardi: Yeah, I would. And they’ve started here a little bit. I would hope so because it is an easy way to get content off of a screen and onto your phone, which I mentioned is glued in your hands.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. And I think a lot of new phones now already come with a QR reader preloaded.

Jill Perardi: Yeah. And I think it’s just a really inexpensive way. So, you’ve got a big website that explains all the reasons why you have to sign up for benefits or you should, or you’ve got a website that explains this entire event. You’re not going to put all of that content on your digital signage.

It would be a great way, if your signage is mounted low enough that someone could reach it with their phone, to scan that QR code and get that information with them. And as you mentioned, it is built in now to a lot of modern phones. I think we have a lot of work to do to explain to people that it is built into your camera.

Now you don’t need to download a separate app, but the younger generation – so think about your audience and who you’re designing for – the younger generation would likely know that. It’s such a quick and just inexpensive way on your design.

Derek DeWitt: It’s not obtrusive looking.

Jill Perardi: No.

Derek DeWitt: Like even a short URL is fine, but it does add word, which makes, which is busier. Whereas that QR code is just a little thing in the corner. It doesn’t seem to interfere with the eye, and it kind of gives you more space to deal with.

Jill Perardi: Yes. If your signage is mounted low enough, go for it and try it out. You know, the thing about design – if you keep doing the same thing over and over, and you don’t know if it’s working or not, you’re never going to know and it could not be working at all. So add a QR code to it and see how many times it gets scanned, because the websites where you can make even free QR codes, they track. So, see how many times it’s scanned, and if you find out it’s working, add it to more messages.

Derek DeWitt: That’s interesting. All right, let’s finish up with what are some common – ‘cause you see a lot of this, you have to do bespoke work for, tailored work, for clients, you see a lot of their own content. What are some of the more common mistakes people make, design-wise?

Jill Perardi: So, I kind of have a list of eight of them here. And the first two in my mind go hand-in-hand – too much and too little.

So too much. You have too much copy. It’s too busy. I have worked with somebody at one point in time and they wanted a full-color photo in the background of an overall layout, not just a single message trying to be conveyed. It was on the whole 55-inch screen. They wanted this full-color photo, and it needed to be full-color because they loved it full-color. And it needed to be all the sharpness of the photo. And our designers here kept saying, “Let’s blur this. Let’s add a blur, let’s add a tint to it. Let’s… we’re not going to take away from your photo, but let’s do something.” Because the minute you add text on top of that, it becomes really, really busy and it’s too much, too hard to read. And [we] finally got buy-in on that, got buy-in after it was tested and determined, “Oh wait, you’re right. It is wildly busy.”

Derek DeWitt: That’s impossible to read.

Jill Perardi: Yeah. And then the other thing for “too much” is digital signage has playlists, right? So it’s one message after the next playing in a loop over and over and over. You get too many items in a playlist, too. So make sure that there’s not overwhelming copy, it’s not too busy, and there’s not too many other pieces in that playlist that you’re competing with.

And then the opposite end of that is too little. Don’t just write, “Enter to win a trip.” I was in a hotel. I had just helped move my cousin in his freshman year in college in his dorm. I was hot, I was tired, I was thirsty. I saw digital signage as I was waiting to check in, and I saw three messages and they were playing over and over and over as I’m standing in this line.

Derek DeWitt: That’s a short playlist.

Jill Perardi: That’s a short playlist – too little. One was a welcome, and the next two were about the bar. So they have their target audience because I was hot, I was tired, I was thirsty. But the first message about the bar just said, “Visit our bar.” And I’m like, “Okay, well I’m probably going to do that.” The second message, though, was actually a photo of their new summer drink, and then telling me to visit the bar. And I will tell you, I was a sucker for their digital signage messaging, because I skipped my overpriced glass of wine I would have typically gotten, and got their summer gin cooler thanks to their digital signage.

Derek DeWitt: So, it totally worked.

Jill Perardi: It totally worked. What would have worked even better is if they had had two more messages in that playlist promoting their breakfast buffet and this and that. So, too little on the messaging, too little in a playlist.

Derek DeWitt:   So, what are the other six?

Jill Perardi: Too confusing – make sure it’s clear and concise. Don’t have bad jokes or puns on there. You may not think that they’re bad jokes, but your audience may not get it at all.

Too similar – we made a mistake here in our own office the other day. We were in a rush. We wanted to do a recycling campaign. We did about five or six messages on things to recycle and/or where to recycle them. We, in a rush, our own fault, made them all the same color and they were too similar. Even though we had a great transition that was eye-catching, you didn’t really pay any attention. They all looked the same and then we went, “Oh, we just did what we tell everyone to not do.” Slow down. Plan. Don’t make these too similar. Change the color.

Errors – don’t let a typo send a wrong message. Even worse, don’t let a typo have the wrong letter or phone number in it for that all-too-important call to action.

Derek DeWitt: Spell things correctly, please.

Jill Perardi: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Bad visuals – stock imagery, sometimes you need to use it; you want to use it. Sometimes it works well. Are they up to date? You know if your stock imagery has someone holding a flip phone – unless your audience is hipsters or hipsters that think it’s cool to use flip phones again

Derek DeWitt: Or a pocket watch.

Jill Perardi: Yeah. Then it’s a bad visual. Don’t use a small image and try to stretch it and make it pixelated.

Derek DeWitt: Right. It blows out.

Jill Perardi: Yeah.

Derek DeWitt: Clip art.

Jill Perardi: Clip art.

Derek DeWitt: Please, no more clip art birthday cakes.

Jill Perardi: No, more clip art. If you want to use an image, just go buy that stock image if you can’t design one yourself. Please don’t use clip art!

Derek DeWitt: There are many places to find a copyright-free images, many of which are actually original. Designers do it to promote themselves and so on. Pixabay is one of those websites where you can just type in a keyword and you get all sorts of really quite fantastic images.

Jill Perardi: Absolutely. It doesn’t have to be difficult. There’s a lot out there that’s available to you.

Bad fonts – your font, papyrus font, calligraphy font – no one can read it; no one wants to. And keep in mind that your messages are only showing for a brief point in time. As I mentioned, I think in the very beginning, you’ve got a moving audience, a moving target. The weight of the font might be too light, bold might be too harsh. One of my personal pet peeves is all caps. Why are you yelling at me about an upcoming launch?

Derek DeWitt: I think this is funny. I don’t perceive… personally, I don’t perceive all caps as obtrusive. I see it as a way to catch attention. But apparently, even in my age group, I’m an exception. This just seems to be something from the internet. If you put anything in caps, people think you’re shouting.

Jill Perardi: They do.

Derek DeWitt: It’s just the convention now.

Jill Perardi: And then, I will also say it’s a pet peeve because my 41 year-old eyes find it hard to read. It’s a little overwhelming.

Derek DeWitt: Getting older’s awesome!

Jill Perardi: It is.

The last thing I have is not changing hats. It’s kind of the phrase I use, but check out the messages in their natural habitat. Be okay with changing things up. What might look good at your desk doesn’t look good on the display once it’s in the lighting of that area., The lighting at your desk maybe totally different than its natural space. Go look at it and change it up if you can.

Maybe you’re not in the office where it’s being played, for example. But surely you’ve got a point of contact there that can tell you, “You know, that’s a little too light in that space. You’ve got a lot of natural light.” Or, “That font, the weight is a little too light. It is hard to read.” Change it up. Digital signage is dynamic.

You asked me earlier, “Is this like a digital poster board?” No, it’s much more than that. But it’s dynamic, and it isn’t a static poster board either, because you can quickly change it without having to have anything printed up. And then lastly, engage your audience with well-designed messages and you’re positive results should start rolling in, and then look at the praise you get as a digital signage designer.

Derek DeWitt: What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen on a digital sign?

Jill Perardi: Oh my goodness!

Derek DeWitt: Like, it still gives you the heebie-jeebies.

Jill Perardi: Way too much copy. That’s the one: way too much copy. It was actually – I used the example of open enrollment earlier – it was an open enrollment poster. It was an electronic version of it, but you could tell that the big printed version that was hanging somewhere looked much better than this small version someone tried to squeeze in. It was terrible, and just too much copy bothers me. That’s always my biggest example of just cringeworthy digital signage.

Derek DeWitt: Well, you know, there are people who just stick a PDF up there sometimes and you’re like, “No one’s reading that in seven seconds, man.”

Jill Perardi: Yeah. And I mean, in their defense, there could be some really well-designed things that just happened to be turned into a PDF, and someone puts it up there quickly, and their digital signage software allows them to do that as it should. But most of the time it’s probably not [well-designed], and it’s copy-heavy, and no one’s going to read it.

Derek DeWitt: Right. And I’d say on that changing hats issue or that topic as well, you can actually go through, so you got your, “Well, we did the designs, we got them up, and we think they’re going to be fantastic.” And let them play for a week or so. As you yourself move through the space, look at them, think about, you can always shift it.

Jill Perardi: Yeah.

Derek DeWitt: Right? You can always go, “Hey, you know what, that isn’t, that is too busy still.” Yup. “How can we make this easier on the eye? Should we split it into three messages?” Things like this.

Jill Perardi: Yeah. And just, everything we talked about today, try it out and see. Try a green font, try a red background – maybe not together.

Derek DeWitt: Even at Christmas.

Jill Perardi: Yes. Try a certain image, and see what is appealing to your audience, and see what kind of ROI you’re getting from it with a QR scan, for example. Or quite frankly, poll your audience to begin with. Ask the sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, “What do you guys want to see on the screens? What kind of design? Give me an example of something that you saw on Instagram that you just really loved.” And maybe it’s someone’s outfit, but I can look at that and go, “A lot of people really loved this outfit of the day, but they all loved it because it was this color.”

Derek DeWitt: Or had a unicorn.

Jill Perardi: Maybe rethink that one!

Derek DeWitt: Well, it’s kind of like something we said at the very beginning too, “What do you remember seeing from last week?” Because again, the study seemed to say that there’s a great retention with digital signage and people really remember, especially if there’s a little movement or short video or something like that. All right, well, thank you very much for talking to us.

Jill Perardi: Thank you.

Derek DeWitt: That’s kind of the background basics of design work, and thank you for listening, everybody.