Digital Signage Design Primer 2 – Practical Tips

EPISODE 8 | Guest: Jill Perardi, creative services manager for Visix

If people don’t like what’s on your screens, they won’t look at them. It’s that simple. If your screens are boring or ugly, people won’t just tune out, they’ll turn off. And that means you’re spending a lot of time and money for no good reason.

What constitutes “good design” is a subjective topic, but there are some tried-and-true practices you can employ to make sure your screens attract attention, engage viewers, and reinforce your message instead of detracting from it.

If you’re tasked with creating content for screens, you may not have had design training. Or, you’ve been trained on PowerPoint or print design, but not this specific medium. This podcast will give you practical digital signage design tips that you can start using today.

  • Get our top six digital design tips
  • Learn how to reinforce brand standards in your designs
  • Understand how to use backgrounds effectively
  • Explore how themes and templates can improve designs and streamline workflows
  • Consider how display specs, interactivity and ADA requirements affect design

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


Derek DeWitt: If people don’t like what’s on your screens, then they’re just not going to look at them. It’s that simple. So if you’ve got boring or ugly content, people just tune out. Which means you’re spending a bunch of time and money on nothing. You’re just wasting it. So, we’re here today with Jill Perardi, creative services manager for Visix. Hi Jill.

Jill Perardi: Hi Derek.

Derek DeWitt: And we’re going to talk about some best practices and some design tips for designing for digital signage messages. Thank you for coming.

Jill Perardi: Thanks for having me.

Derek DeWitt: Digital signage design isn’t exactly graphic design, but there are certainly a lot of elements that are similar– it’s a rectangle, the way things are laid out on there, the way the eye adjusts, and this. I’ve got six things. I thought I’d throw them out to you and see what you think about each one.

Jill Perardi: All right! I like it, I like it.

Derek DeWitt: So first, the first graphic design tip – contrast and legibility.

Jill Perardi: We’ll contrast is key for legibility. Primary factor. You have to have contrast. If there’s no contrast between the background image and your foreground text or colors, then it’s never going to work. No one’s going to be able to see it well enough, read it well enough, to understand your message.

And when it comes to contrast, too, it’s not just the background and the foreground. Think about where the displays are located and what the natural environment is around that display. Is it in a bright area? Is it in a dark area? That has to be accounted for in the contrast of your design.

Derek DeWitt: Is that display up way too brightly? Is that annoying?

Jill Perardi: Or is that display up way too high and mounted flush on the wall? So, you’re looking at it from an angle.

Derek DeWitt: “I’d love to read that message, but now my neck hurts.”

The three by five rule. What is that?

Jill Perardi: All right. So, I learned the three by five rule when I was in college taking my very first PowerPoint class. That was a new thing when I was in college. The three by five rule is, three lines of text with five words each or you could have five lines of text, but keep them to about three words each. Because it’s too cluttered with text, otherwise.

Derek DeWitt: So, 15 words max.

Jill Perardi: Yeah. Pretty much. Keep your type and your font large for readability. Present only the most important information. Make sure you’ve got maybe a headline and then your important points below it. But that holds true from your first PowerPoint class, whether you’re old and you took it in college or you’re learning it now in kindergarten.

Derek DeWitt: I have more than 15 words. Should I split my messages into connected messages?

Jill Perardi: Tell a story?

Derek DeWitt: Yeah?

Jill Perardi: Well, we’ve got a couple of options. I love telling a good story on digital signage. Split your message up. Make sure they look a little different or they’re connected but a little different to capture attention, or have a cool transition in between the two. Or add a nice little call to action on it. Add a link to go check out the rest on a website. Send yourself a text. Text “more” to 12345 and see what text message you get back. Maybe then it links to your website. A couple of different things you can do if you’ve got more than that to say.

Derek DeWitt: That’s very interesting.

Jill Perardi: But don’t squeeze it all in one message – no one’s going to read it.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Text styles. We talked a little bit before about how evil Comic Sans is. Tell me about that.

Jill Perardi: Yup. Comic Sans, Papyrus – just don’t use them. But really, text is really important. Keep it simple. Keep it easy to read. Make sure that you’re using bold for something that needs to be eye catching. If you’re using a lightweight font – which a lot of people do now, it’s modern design to use a lightweight font – but is that enough contrast? Going back to your first one.

And think through sans serif fonts versus serif fonts. Sans serif basically means not that decorative touch at the end of a letter. So, the end of your letter, might have a little decorative touch, might have a little swoosh or something at the end of an s, let’s say. That’s a serif font. Probably the most commonly used serif font would be Times New Roman. You put that on a digital sign, it could become very hard to read.

Derek DeWitt: Right, because actually, they’re printers’ fonts that were designed for printed words. It helps the eye follow, but the eye doesn’t track words on a digital sign the same way, I think.

Jill Perardi: It does not. And so use a sans serif font. Really popular ones, of course, would be an Arial, Avenir, Gotham, Futura. They’re really… I see those a lot in client brands now because so many clients are writing for digital, whether that be a website or ads, digital ads or, of course, ads on digital signage as opposed to print fonts. So make sure you know the difference, because it can really help improve readability and get your point across.

Derek DeWitt: Right. And I think also, size matters.

Jill Perardi: Who says it doesn’t?

Derek DeWitt: You want to make sure that you’re using a font size big enough to be able to be read from a distance.

Jill Perardi: Definitely, yeah.

Derek DeWitt: Color and perception – how does this factor in?

Jill Perardi: Color’s important for contrast. Color is important for your background designs. I think in another podcast we talked a good bit about color. Color’s important for emotional reaction, emotional triggers. Different people think different things about color, but also color can be sensitive. Contrasting colors – light on dark, dark on light. But again, think about where your displays are located and the lighting around them.

Understand what your audience’s eye is drawn to. And it controls the impact of information, again, going back to that human behavior surrounding color, something like purple, I believe is considered regal. So, if you’ve got certain messages to convey, think about the color, but again, make sure that it’s conveying the right message and it’s easy on the eye and it’s easy to read. I think blue is supposed to be considered really the least sensitive on eyes.

Derek DeWitt: I think that’s right. And then red, because it’s such a low frequency that it messes with the eye. We said, “where the eye is drawn” – what kind of focus techniques are there?

Jill Perardi: Put your most important information first. You have a short amount of time to convey this message because it is digital signage, and your digital signage better be changing. If you’re using it appropriately, you’ve got several messages to convey in a short amount of time to you’re moving target. So make sure that the critical information is the largest, either with an image or with a font or an icon. Make sure you’ve got your headlines and your bright colors to draw the focus.

Adding a priority or a visual hierarchy can tell your viewers quickly what’s the most important and what they need to see. “Enroll today” is really important. “Why am I enrolling today?” Well, if I don’t, I’m losing…

Derek DeWitt: “Here’s why.”

Jill Perardi:  It could be, “If I don’t, I’m losing my insurance.” Well, maybe you want to put, “Don’t lose your health coverage. Open enrollment ends today.” So think through what is the most important part of your message and what’s the best way to convey that with images or texts or color in order to get the eye to focus on the most important part.

Derek DeWitt: What about previewing – people are supposed to do when they make designs visually. Obviously I know if I do a poster or something like that, I take a look at it and I go, “Yeah, that looks pretty good, pretty good. We print one out, it looks pretty good. Let’s go!” and we do it.  How do we do this for digital signage?

Jill Perardi: First I say, walk away from it. Come up with your design, put it on your screen, walk away from your desk. Turn off your monitor and pick up the phone. Go talk to a coworker or something, and then walk back and see where your eye goes.

Derek DeWitt: Eat a salad….

Jill Perardi: Walk back and see where your eye goes first. Test your readability. Test it on your own monitor. If you can’t read it on your own monitor, or you think it could be challenging on your own monitor, there’s a really good chance it’s going to be on your digital signs. And stand back from it. I do this a lot. I look at it, my computer monitor is close to my eyes. I get up out of my chair and I take five feet back and look at it and I go, “Oh, that is a totally different perspective.”

Or, I have a monitor mounted to my wall in my office that’s even further back, and I stand up and take a step back then. Preview it and change it. And even if you, maybe you get the luxury of designing for displays that are in your own building or nearby you on campus or wherever it might be. Take a minute to go walk by it. And if you don’t like it, if you don’t think it reads well, change it. Or whatever you’re promoting isn’t getting traction, change it. But definitely preview it. And take a good look at it. Also, think of it not as yourself as the designer. Think of how your audience is going to view it.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, I think that’s key. You’ve said that before, and I think that’s a key thing. Very often designers will get, “Yes, but the reason I made the word green, in green color, is because it reinforces, and there’s an intellectual connection.” And you’re like, “Yeah, but now I can’t see the word.”

Jill Perardi: Exactly.

Derek DeWitt: And people just ignore it. So, it was a cute idea and yet it turned out it didn’t work. Outline it in white or something to make that word stand out.

Jill Perardi: Yeah, absolutely. As a designer, you have the power, but the message is not about you.

Derek DeWitt: Well, I would say that once it goes up on those digital signs, the audience are the ones with the power. They’re going to do with it whatever the heck they want. Let’s talk a little bit about designing for brand standards and how to reinforce brand standards. Because this is something I think a lot of organizations want to do, and they want to have a consistent look across. How do we do this using design tips?

Jill Perardi: I actually have a marketing background. I come from marketing departments. My entire professional career I’ve pretty much had some sort of a marketing background, so I love a good brand. I’m also a Virgo, so I’m a little uptight and love a good organization of anything. Everything needs to be organized. And there’s nothing I love more than a theme that I can see carry through all different parts of my day, my event, my signage, my marketing materials, right?

Derek DeWitt: It’s satisfying.

Jill Perardi: Yes, it is. So, I love a brand, and digital signage is typically an extension of your brand. Convey your brand, push it through.

Derek DeWitt: Like a logo.

Jill Perardi: Like a logo, for example. Before we get too deep into that, let me tell you the other side of it. Sometimes your brand is quite frankly going to stick out like a sore thumb where you’re using your display.

Derek DeWitt: What do you mean?

Jill Perardi: So, a hospital, their brand was turquoise and purple. They had a cancer center with a digital sign in it for donor recognition. It was in a beautiful lobby that was green and gold marble and a cherrywood grain. And that turquoise and purple was not going to look good on that display.

Derek DeWitt: A little pukey.

Jill Perardi: Yeah, just a lot coming together. So in that case, design for the aesthetics. The brand came through in their logo and the font type, which I think we’ll probably talk more about. But the whole thing wasn’t turquoise and purple. It was gold and green and cherrywood. And that’s the time that I say scrap the brand, or use what you can out of the brand.

Derek DeWitt: Or adjust it or maybe mute it, or maybe do a different shade.

Jill Perardi: Absolutely.

Derek DeWitt: But yeah, for sure, I think the logo is going to be the number one thing. Everybody knows the Olympic rings. Everybody knows the Visix eye, right? Everybody knows that one, everybody on Earth. How prevalent should it be? Where should it be? How should you use it? Should it be in the corner? What should we do with it?

Jill Perardi: I think, think about your deployment. Where are your signs? Who is your audience? Where are these located? If you are a corporate office and your signage is for your own employees, maybe you don’t need a logo. Your employees already know where they work. But you might want to do that to promote your brand and make sure you have that.

If you’re a university, yeah, you want your university logo. Rah-rah, promote the brand, promote the university. But furthermore, each department typically gets a variation of the university logo. Southern Illinois University, College of English. You might want that because when students or visitors are in that building, All right, this is the English department, I know where I am.” Really consider your logo.

And then also you don’t need it on everything. If you’ve got a screen and you’ve got your overall screen design, maybe you’ve got your logo in the top left, you don’t need it on every message that you then have coming after that. You don’t need it on your open enrollment message, your event message, you’re this and you’re that message, because it’s already on the top left of your display all the time. So just think through how often and when you use it.

Derek DeWitt: And, I would also say, make sure you have a nice high-res version, because one of my pet peeves is that exploded low-res image that somebody blew up because they don’t understand you can’t just take a small image and magically make it bigger and make it look good.

Jill Perardi: Yeah.

Derek DeWitt: Especially if it’s your logo, for God’s sake.

Jill Perardi: To kind of build on that, too, use a high-resolution logo. If you only have a logo that has a white box behind it, if that’s the only one that you can come up with? You know, it’s a black logo with a white box, let’s say, or color logo with a white box behind it? That white box is going to show up in your design. So, you better make your whole background white if you want it to look like it blends. Try to find a logo that’s got a transparent background as well.

Derek DeWitt: Right. And then work it into the design.

Jill Perardi: Yeah.

Derek DeWitt: Colors obviously the next thing. You’ve already mentioned something about colors. What… PMS colors don’t really work on digital signs, right?

Jill Perardi: Yeah, because it’s not print. So, we’re going to deal with RGB or hex colors. And so find… And in fact, if you only know PMS colors – which is not uncommon, I help a lot of our clients with their digital signage content. I ask for their brand colors. They’ve only got PMS, because they’ve never tiptoed into digital design, and they had some other firm do their website. Almost everybody has at least done it through that, through a website. But they had a firm do it. Well, google “PMS to hex colors”.

Derek DeWitt: I was going to say, surely there’s a translator out there.

Jill Perardi: Absolutely, there’s a ton of them. So do that. Come up with that color. Use your brand palette as long as it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb like we had talked about with that hospital example. Don’t just use your primary color. If your brand has… Well, some brands can have a ton of colors in it, but some might just have two, a primary and a secondary. And maybe, it’s blue, it’s green and it’s white, let’s say. Use all of those colors. Don’t just make your primary color your only color used in your design.

Derek DeWitt: Right – blue, blue, blue, so much blue.

Jill Perardi: There’s not enough contrast. It’s not changing enough between one message to the next. It’s overwhelming. Mix it up a little bit. It’ll capture your audience’s attention if you mix it up. But brand colors can be really, really important to carry your brand across.

Derek DeWitt: What about brand fonts? Because I know a lot of companies, some companies actually have bespoke fonts made for them. “This is our font, we own it.”

Jill Perardi: Absolutely they do. We worked with a client just a couple of weeks ago. They had that, they sent it to us because we were designing content for them. I signed a little document and promised we wouldn’t use this anywhere else because it was their font made for them. A lot of clients have a brand font. They might have two. They might have a typeface for their written, printed materials. They might have a digital font for their digital signage materials. You know, as we had talked about serif fonts, sans serif fonts. So, you might have a couple and you might say, “Listen, we really don’t have a font.” Use something that’s common that comes with most software.

Derek DeWitt: Use something that doesn’t suck.

Jill Perardi: Yeah, yeah. But yes, you know, like I said, I talk to clients all the time, and I understand that digital signage can be anywhere. Anywhere from a large corporation to Joe’s plumbing shop, and they just wanted something behind the counter. And Joe’s plumbing shop may not have a brand. But what Joe does have, and he doesn’t even realize it, is a logo on his checks, a logo on a piece of paper, might have a little website. Send that to whomever is designing the content if you’re not designing it yourself, and you don’t even realize it, but you actually have a brand by having that.

We had a preschool at one time even as a client, “Well, we don’t really have a brand, but we use a lot of blue.” Cool. Send me your website so I can see what that “lot of blue”, what that color of “lots of blue” is.

Derek DeWitt: Turned out that was actually the name of the color…

Jill Perardi: It wasn’t, but yeah, so I can at least see that. Because you don’t realize it, but you do have a brand that’s even forming by already having someone else create a website for you or having letterhead.

Derek DeWitt: Right. If you’ve got any kind of web presence, you’ve got a brand.

Jill Perardi: And then, to use that preschool as an example, the parents started on your website to look you up when someone recommended you as their school. They’ve seen it there, they’ve seen it when they walked in and saw signs and your posters in your building. Now they’re going to see it when you’ve replaced those posters with your digital signage. Carry it through. Make sure that they put all the parts and pieces together with your brand.

Derek DeWitt: What about backgrounds? You’d told a story once about this really, really sharp, busy, full-color background. Sometimes I think maybe some companies want to use their logo as the background? How do we determine what’s an effective background?

Jill Perardi: Well think about what’s going to draw attention. So, humans are visual, right? So I think it’s 90% of information sent to the brain is actually visual. It’s a background. It’s an image. It’s some sort of a design, maybe before the text. So, the text of course, that’s your message, but your background is important. Don’t make it so busy. Consider your audience, what’s going to appeal to them.

We had talked, I think another time in another podcast about emotional triggers. You know, whether that be you’ve had – I think you mentioned Seattle, it was always raining – and I’m in Atlanta, and the entire month of February it rained. So, that sunny day background that someone designed or an image that we had, sure could have boosted my mood and captured my attention. The question is though, how busy is that sunny day background and is the text, am I seeing the text that’s on top of it? So just think about the content.

Think about your audience and think about the clutter. Don’t clutter your background design with just too much so that it’s not so busy that your messaging isn’t getting across. And make sure it’s clean, and you might want to follow a color scheme or certain standards for your background designs.

Derek DeWitt: We’ve written a little bit about using colors to sort of color-code messages by content type. Whatever – green is for recycling. What is that?

Jill Perardi: That can be great, but you don’t, there’s pros and cons to this. We think about the pros, right? We’ve got, people know colors to mean things. You talked about green means recycling because it’s green. But also the recycling icon is green.

When we talk about, when we do interact with wayfinding projects – which are basically helping people move through buildings or campuses by looking at maps – there’s, we put icons on those maps for people to quickly and easily spot a restroom. Well, that icon that we use is the same printed restroom sign that is outside every restroom door. It’s blue. There’s different variations of men, women, gender-neutral, whatever. We use those same icons. We’re not going to suddenly make that purple or green because the brand color palette calls for it. We’re going to do that because it’s a familiar color.

You might want to color-code your messages for familiarity. If you want to make all HR notices tan, all IT notices blue, whatever it is, carry that through. Maybe the building, maybe the IT department is an area with blue carpet or blue walls and HR is in a different one. I mean that happens. I’ve been in a lot of corporate offices, for example, where they do that. Carry that through in the messaging.

I don’t love doing that if you’re never going to promote a certain area or certain department. If you’re using this for a kind of “Rah-rah, way to go certain department” messages, and you see the same colors over and over and over? A lot of digital signage you want to impact human behavior. So yeah, it may give that department a boost. “Ooh, I’m always seeing my color on the screen”. And then some other department may go, “No one cares about me because we never see our color of messages on the screen”.

Derek DeWitt: “Here we are in the puce section, and no one likes us.”

Jill Perardi:  Exactly. Just think it over. But it’s not a bad idea at all to come up with some color coding, because it also helps you as a designer. You know what this message is about, so you know you’ve got a look for it based on whichever department has submitted it or requested it.

Derek DeWitt: Organizations might want to have more than one content creator or allow – I know some universities do this, for example – allow students to create content as well. It takes the burden off of them. The students are happy to do it, and they have a bit more control. And the way to make sure that that meshes with the brand that organization’s trying to put forth is through themes and templates and things like this. Talk about those. How, how prevalent are they? Are they, how useful are they?

Jill Perardi: I think we’ve got to break down themes and templates into two totally different things first. And then also keep in mind that not everybody is a designer that’s responsible. As you mentioned, student workers or whatever – you may want your students to put content up, because it engages them and encourages them to actually then continue to look at the displays and be involved. And you might be, you might have a full graphic design team that’s responsible for this, but maybe they don’t have the time to always come up with something fresh because they’re dealing with a website redesign or whatever else is going on, and you just don’t have the time to constantly whip something up. So come up with a theme first and foremost.

Like I said, I want to break them out into two things. A theme is kind of some coordinating artwork elements to kind of help set the tone for your displays. If you think about your brand, I’ve got two or three different backgrounds using our two or three different colors in our color palette. The fonts always the same. The logo is always going to go here or here. And I’ve come up with this design. And every so often I’m going to change it up and use a different color background, and might move the logo to here and there, but it’s always this great looking theme. It doesn’t have to be brand.

Derek DeWitt: Here’s our cute mascot, whatever.

Jill Perardi: Absolutely. Make it seasonal. You got four themes right there. Go with holidays. Make it decorative and kind of fit into the aesthetics. But come up with that overall design that really… I think a theme, just kind of are the artistic graphical elements that set the tone of the overall design, and then run with it. You don’t have to constantly come up with a look that starts from scratch. But if you’ve gone seasonal, you know that the next season’s coming in three weeks, four weeks, let’s start on that next theme. You know, let’s get it moving.

Derek DeWitt: We all know, as soon as we started seeing Halloween stuff, we all started thinking Thanksgiving.

Jill Perardi: Yeah, absolutely. So then touch on templates, which as I mentioned, I think are completely different. A template, in my opinion, is an easy way to allow that student worker, for example, to create content that supports your theme. Does that make sense?

Derek DeWitt: Yep, yeah, yeah, yeah. Theme – this is the look. Template is – fits within that look. I gotcha.

Jill Perardi: And so there’s kind of some different ways to make templates, right? They could be a, a term we use here, fill in the blank templates. So that allows Sally Student-Worker to quickly get something up on the screen because her boss told her to, and she knows she needs to get it up there. But Sally is going to use terrible font, and Sally wants to put the mascot on there, but it’s not really a mascot-related message.

Well, the designers can go ahead and set templates that say, “Hey Sally, you can fill in the blanks, and by doing so, you literally type in your message or upload the photo that you’re told you can upload.” And when she does that, the designers have already done the work in the background to make sure that that template shows up in the brand font, the font size, the font color or the weight, the type. She’s using things that support that overall theme or support the brand. She’s not using her crazy calligraphy font.

Derek DeWitt: Right. And I assume it also decides, the template also decides, where the elements go on the screen and things like this.

Jill Perardi: Yeah, it goes here and only here.

Derek DeWitt: So, she’s just writing the actual content, and literally everything else is taken care of.

Jill Perardi: Yeah, absolutely. You know, there’s a lot of templates that can be created. I mean a lot of companies out there – design companies for digital signage design, web design, whatever it might be – they have templates. But most of the time, unless it’s a scenario like I’ve just described, they’re really just a good starting point.

If you think about it, you want to put together a website that you have in your mind where you want copy to appear. So you start with a template, and then you realize, “Oh, the copy only goes in the left” or it’s only right justified. Or same thing with your digital signage. You know, “I’ve got this directory template, but I’m not showing four columns of data in my directory. How do I get rid of that fourth column and just make it three, and then make my directory columns wider because I’ve got more space?”

So, templates are sometimes good jumping off points to help me get started and then to allow me to customize it from there. I don’t want your grey nebulous background. I want our brand photo background, whatever it is. Good jumping off points, but then there’s also really, really useful times for them. Like I mentioned – Sally Student-Worker.

Derek DeWitt: What about displays specs? Because you’re designing a general sort of a thing, but it’s going to look different on a small screen, on a big screen, a video wall. Like it’s always going to look different.

Talk a little bit about how you have to think about the actual display, because it’s not a poster.

Jill Perardi: Right.

Derek DeWitt: I mean even with a poster, you think about what kind of paper you have. Is it textured? What weight is it? The digital signage equivalent is the displays. So, talk about that a little bit.

Jill Perardi: Yeah, absolutely. So, you might be an amazing graphic designer, but you’ve only done print. And then you get into digital signage and you realize things are a little bit different. There’s display specs. On the other side of things here at Visix – if one of my designers was asked to design something for print and they’d say, “What paper weight do you want?” We’d be completely puzzled – we’re digital designers.

But you have to think about your canvas in this instance is a display. It’s a television, it’s a display. And so you first have to think about, or I think you have to think about a few things. The display size, that’s really important. How much content do you want to show? Your display is a canvas. Think about it as you’re about to paint something, you’re about to print something. You can only show so much of what’s on that display. And the beauty of digital signage – you can time that so, however many seconds later, it goes to the next thing. It doesn’t do that in print. But, “How big is my display? How big is my canvas?” may determine how big my font can be. How busy my message is going to be because my display’s so small, or is it too large?

Think about orientation. Is it horizontal – or what we refer to as landscape – or is it vertical, or what’s considered portrait?

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, sure. Those would be completely different.

Jill Perardi: Absolutely different. You design completely differently in those situations. So then the last thing’s aspect ratio and resolution. This can be a totally foreign concept to some people, because particularly they might’ve been doing digital design, but they’ve been doing it for responsive websites. It’s going to scale and size no matter if I’m looking at it in Safari on my phone or Chrome on my 20-inch computer monitor. But when you’ve got a 55-inch display that’s never changing, you need to know that.

An aspect ratio technically is the image area’s width divided by the height. So your displays width divided height.

Derek DeWitt: That’s what 16:9 means.

Jill Perardi: Yep. So you’d see 4:3, four by three. 16:9 is probably the most common.

Derek DeWitt: Now.

Jill Perardi: Yeah, now. And then also 9:16, which is basically that portrait vertical display. That’s important, because if you’re designing something that maybe needs to be larger from left to right in order to look good, make sure that it’s going on a display that’s mounted in that orientation, that has that aspect ratio.

Derek DeWitt: Otherwise things get all messed up.

Jill Perardi: Yes, they could stretch. They could be letterboxed and show up with black bars on the left, the right, the top or the bottom, and your contents just sitting oddly in the middle. So, It can really make or break the quality of your design, your message.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. It makes you look amateur, I think, too.

Jill Perardi: Absolutely.

Derek DeWitt: Like, “These guys…what are they doing?”

Jill Perardi: And dated. Dated because, remember when everybody all of a sudden got HD displays in their home, and all the TV stations weren’t required to catch up to it yet. And you’re watching something and there’s black bars at the top and the bottom. Well now that was, that was so 15 years ago now, right? So it looks dated.

And then resolution. Resolution is basically the number of columns and rows of pixels that you use to create an image. For a print designer, that would be like DPI, dots per inch. This is pixels. So a typical 16:9 aspect ratio display likely has a resolution of 1920 x 1080, and that’s the number of pixels that show up to make that color on your display. Those things are important because, again, if you design, you’ve designed something for 1366 x 768. You’ve designed for that, and you’re trying to put that on a 1920 x 1080 display – or worse a 4K, the ultra-HD display – it’s going to look terrible. Again, it’s going to stretch, it can letterbox it, whatever, it’s going to look awful. So make sure you know that.

And then also, if you’re designing content for multiple displays, find out the aspect ratio, orientation, the resolution of all of them. Because the person that’s asking for the content that you’re designing, for example, they may not know that this content is going on some other display that’s some old display stuck somewhere back of house, but it’s still in use. Just make sure that – if you’re designing for multiple displays, that you design multiple times to account for those different sizes, aspect ratios, whatever, orientations, or that they’re all the same – that you know that.

Derek DeWitt: Interesting. What about video walls? People love them. People talk about video walls all the time. “Oh my God, they’re so impressive. Look at this gigantic interconnected group of screens.” I mean, that’s a whole different ballgame for design, or is it? Do you still have the same rules?

 Jill Perardi: Same rules, but likely a much higher resolution. So you’re going to have to design for that much higher resolution, because that content is not going to look good if it’s not at that resolution. It will be stretched and squeezed and everything else. And now it’s on a much larger display for everyone to notice how terrible it looks.

Make sure if you have a video wall that you find out the resolution. And it’s not just, “All right, we have four displays and each one is 1920 x 1080”. Well, depending on how you’re connecting those four displays – one big square, one row of four displays in one long row – the resolution is going to change based on that. So do the math and figure it out.

The other thing about video walls, this is becoming less common, but there’s what you call a bezel. A bezel is basically a frame around your TV, around your display. A lot of times people are now going [with] bezel-less displays. Which means there’s almost practically no frame around them.

Derek DeWitt: So they just sort of seamlessly connect.

Jill Perardi: It’s all screen space and they seamlessly connect. But maybe they might be cost prohibitive in some instances, and so you use a display that still has that frame where it interconnects. Well that frame might be half an inch, but when you put those two displays together, now it’s an inch.

Derek DeWitt: More math!

Jill Perardi; Yep, more math. Who knew you had to do so much math to design for digital signage?  By the way recently, someone laughed and said that they would love to go back and remind all their teachers that said they’d never walk around with a calculator in their hands, that they now are walking around always with a calculator in their hands with their phone. So it could come in handy here.

Derek DeWitt: Ha ha! Mr. Spence was right.

Jill Perardi: Yeah, it can come in handy here. But yeah, so that bezel, basically what that means, if you’ve got an inch of frame, that’s an inch of your content not being shown. There’s nothing worse than looking at a video wall and having this big plastic frame going right down someone’s face.

Derek DeWitt: Shiny usually, too. It’s reflective.

Jill Perardi: Right on somebody’s face, going through the middle of a word, cutting out a letter altogether.

Derek DeWitt: Your logo.

Jill Perardi: Yeah. So just keep that in mind.

Derek DeWitt: So that’s like a whole new, a whole different thing.

Jill Perardi: That’s a whole other podcast.

Derek DeWitt: Hmm. Let me make a note – “video wall design podcast”.

Let’s talk about accessibility. You know, for many, many, many years, we haven’t really thought about people who are differently abled, people who are colorblind, people who are deaf. And now more and more, because of lobbying groups and collective power groups, we’re starting to pay attention to this.

And obviously in the United States we have the Americans with Disabilities Act. I think in other countries they have similar, possibly more comprehensive, guidelines and so on. How hard is it? Is it like, “Oh God, now I have to do a whole new set of designs”? How hard is it to incorporate accessibility considerations into just regular digital signage design?

Jill Perardi: Well, I think when you and I were discussing this one day, I think it all boils down to don’t be a jerk. Why wouldn’t you want to? You want this to be used by everybody, right?

Derek DeWitt: “Your money’s no good here, blind guy!”

Jill Perardi: Right, exactly. So, just keep some things in mind, and you want your content… As a designer, don’t you want the masses to see what you’ve done? So design for everybody.

Think about text – you should be able to read it easily from a distance. One thing that we think about a lot when we do interactive designs, if it’s going into a hospital, let’s say, the demographic in that hospital that’s going to use this varies greatly. And it’s people that might be afraid to touch a screen, don’t know that they can. So just consider that too. When you’re designing text – size, colors contrast. I think it’s 8% of men are colorblind, born colorblind. I think it’s much less for women. I think it’s less than 1% for women.

Derek DeWitt: Either red/yellow, what is it purple/yellow and red/green are the most common?

Jill Perardi: I think it’s blue/yellow, red/green. And so, it’s not that they don’t see the color at all, or that they see grey? It’s a hard time to distinguish between the colors.

Derek DeWitt: Ah, okay. So it kind of gets muddled in the mind as it goes from the eye.

Jill Perardi: Yeah. So contrast is key. We’ve been talking about brand and brand colors. Well, you don’t want to exclude people from reading your messaging because you’re using your brand colors, and there’s not enough contrast in those.

Derek DeWitt: So that’s another reason not to do like green text on a red background. Because for someone who has red, green color blindness, it’s all just one soup.

Jill Perardi: Yeah, there’s not enough separation.

Derek DeWitt: They’re going to go, “There are no words. What are you talking about?”

Jill Perardi: There’s not enough separation. Not enough contrast. Be careful with two shades of the same color in a design, for example.

Derek DeWitt: These are whatever, green text and then, “But we made this word really dark green.” And the colorblind person says “Did you?”

Jill Perardi: Absolutely. And think about accessible elements. Kind of going back to interactive – as I just mentioned that – the American Disabilities Act, ADA Act. There are standards set for how high or low displays should be mounted, how much they have to be flush or protruding from the wall, and you have to design for that accordingly.

Derek DeWitt: Especially interactive. If people are expected to interact with it, there’s a whole series of guidelines.

Jill Perardi: Absolutely. And, maybe you do want audio in some of your messaging.

Derek DeWitt: Or the option.

Jill Perardi: Or the option of it, yeah. And that might go into, again, goes into a whole other podcast, but it might go into a kiosk design for example. Can someone plug in a headphone and listen and all of that. Just at least, at the very least, consider text can be tough to see for young eyes versus old eyes versus contrast and colorblindness and distance.

Derek DeWitt: And dyslexics.

Jill Perardi: Yeah. Oh gosh, yeah, absolutely, which is just growing. So there’s a website that we refer to a good bit actually, 99designs. They’ve got some great tips and some visual examples to take a look at.

Derek DeWitt: Is it 99, the numbers?

Jill Perardi: Yep 99designs. But yeah, the ADA guidelines are everything from lifts to get into a public pool to digital design and interactive design elements.

Derek DeWitt: That is a lot of advice. Our call to action, of course, is listen to more of our podcasts and check the listing here on the website for the links and other goodies associated with it. Thanks for talking to us, Jill. I know it was a long time.

Jill Perardi: Thank you, Derek.

Derek DeWitt: Thank you. All right, thanks for listening everybody.