Digital Signage Best Practices

Design Basics
While designing for signage can be similar in many ways to designing for other digital mediums and in some cases even print, there are a few major differences to consider. Digital Signage (DS) is a powerful medium with the ability to distribute multiple ideas and messages at once. By following some simple guidelines, your displays become a powerful source of information sharing. 

Contrast and Legibility
If the eye can’t separate the words from the background due to color choice, the message is lost. Dark backgrounds or images should utilize a light or white text, light backgrounds should utilize dark text.

3 x 5 Rule
Don’t pack the message with too much text. Keep the type size as large as possible, especially for headlines. Utilize either three lines of text with five words, or five lines with three words

Don’t use more than 2 fonts. Utilize easy to read fonts, avoid script unless dictated by design guide. Use italics sparingly as they harder to read and fatigue the eye.

Color and Perception
Use color for contrast and clarity. Don’t try to use too many colors at the same time. It confuses the space.

Focus Techniques
Guide the eye to critical information through a visual hierarchy. Utilize bright colors and high contrast as well as size for emphasizing the most important information.

Preview designs
Stand back at least 6 feet from the monitor. Read content forwards and backwards to gauge how long a new viewer might take to read the message entirely.

If there are too many elements fighting for space within the message, information is lost. Don’t try to utilize too many visual elements in terms of excessive pictures, fancy fonts or colors. Make sure what you add enhances the message, not distract from it. Learning when an element is not adding to the overall message is an important asset.

Worst Slide Ever

Ask yourself if every element is adding something to the message. If not, it’s time to scale back. Less is always more.

Legibility and Readability
This is probably the most important thing to consider when creating content for DS. Make sure you know where each of the digital signs will be displayed and how far away the viewer will typically be. All designs must be created with this distance in mind, or else text may be too small, too crowded or illegible in other ways. Color, font choice, size and amount of text as well as contrast all play an important role in whether or not your message will read from a distance. Keep the 3x5 rule in mind! 

Digital Signage Text Examples

Information Hierarchy
The headline is the piece of information that most viewers will read first. They may not go on to read the rest of the information so the headline should be clear, concise and accurately represent the content of the message. This text should be the largest and boldest piece of information within the message. Remember also to include a “Call to Action” for each message. What should the viewer take away from it? What would you like the result to be? Clearly communicate what the intent is every time.

Digital Signage Hierarchy Example

What is the viewer supposed to take away from each message? What is the ‘Call to Action’?

Safe Areas
Make sure that content is designed with enough of a buffer around the edges of the message to keep it from being lost or hard to read. While it is fine for photos and other graphical elements to bleed off the screen, if your text is too close to the edge, the impact is lost. 

Safe Area for Text

Resolutions and Aspect Ratios
Displays for digital signage are almost always in ‘wide-screen’ format, or 16:9 aspect ratio. This translates to an image resolution of 1920x1080. If the displays are oriented in ‘Portrait’ mode, the aspect ratio is then 9:16, or 1080x1920. Less often displays are still in traditional non-wide-screen aspect ratio of 4:3, or 800x600 pixels. 

When creating content areas to house the playlists with your messaging, it is helpful to also keep these aspect ratios in mind. If all content areas are created at 16:9 for example, messaging can be placed in any one without fear of distortion. Conversely, if one content area is 4:3 and the rest are 16:9, any content from the 16:9 areas will be distorted if placed into the 4:3 space. When creating messages and content for your signage, it is helpful to think of design conventions for web usage. Graphics should be created in RGB color mode (for screen use vs print, CMYK) for color consistency. Creating templates for users and creators to employ will help ensure that these guidelines are followed.

Most of your messaging will be conveyed through the use of typography, thus making it one of the most important elements to consider when creating content. Above all, try to keep messaging simple and concise. If it takes longer than 7 seconds to read the message, revising it or splitting it up over different slides should be considered. This allows the actual size of the font to be larger, which is imperative for a medium that may be viewed from a distance. Text that is too small, even if the message is short, will make it difficult to read. Font style and choice also impact the effectiveness of your messaging. Script or other fonts with excessive flourish are difficult to read at a distance and should be avoided for signage.

MMA's official font is LATO, available from Google Fonts

Color Use in Design
Just like with fonts, try to minimize the number of colors that are being used in each type of content. Too many will cause the viewer to lose specific focus and reduce clarity. Use color to enhance the guide the viewers eye to the most important information or call to action within the message. Contrast and visibility are still foremost even when applying photo backgrounds and graphics to your messages. 

One more time, when designing for signage, make sure that you’re setting yourself up for success by working in the right color-mode. CMYK is intended for print, and may affect the appearance in a negative way if used for digital displays. RGB is designed for working with digital mediums such as screens.

Utilizing Outside Content
While much of the content used within your system might be created by dedicated members of the DS deployment, automated outside content help augment the amount needed to be created from scratch. This includes utilizing websites, video, RSS and ticker feeds and other data that can displayed on the digital sign.

Copyright Conditions
With all assets gathered from outside sources, please consult the sections within the protocol document detailing copyright process. Make sure that all messages meet the organization’s standards in relation to it’s view on copyright. 

Message Scheduling
Best overall tip to remember: more frequent exposure to messaging is better than LONGER exposure. By repeating messages more frequently in a rotation, the audience is more likely to internalize the topic or call to action. 

Message Duration

  • Typically from 5-12 seconds
  • This depends first and foremost on where the signage is being displayed
  • If this is in a high traffic area with lots of foot traffic, the duration will most likely be less, perhaps 5 seconds only
  • Messages displayed in areas with a ‘captive’ audience (waiting rooms, lobbies, in front of elevators etc) can be displayed for longer or have more complex elements (animations, longer descriptions etc)
  • Read your message forwards and backwards
  • Reading the message backwards gives you an idea of how long it will take someone seeing it for the first time to read it in its entirety
  • More repetitions, shorter duration
  • The average rule is that a viewer needs to see the message 7 times before internalizing it
  • Changing where the message is displayed, changing the composition of the message, colors, images utilized etc will help reinforce it

Playlists should have between 7-10 messages in busy areas with lots of foot traffic. With each message at around 7 seconds each, this causes the content to loop roughly once per minute. This increases exposure. It is recommended that one item on the screen remain constant. This avoids too many moving parts on the screen, making it appear cluttered and unorganized. Good options are the date/time and weather for this Having your content contained within a branded layout will also help avoid the feeling of over-stimulation. Consider using themes (branding, seasonal, holiday, etc) to tie your messaging together. To make sure your signs don’t become irrelevant, change content daily or every couple of days or change the design and background every 6-12 months.