Digital signage design - The complete guide

Digital signage design - The complete guide

What do you need to know when it comes to your first designs?

So you’ve opted for digital signage over traditional print signage. Smart move. Digital display screens have an unparalleled ability to attract attention with their high definition displays and ability to use video and audio.

Having all the right equipment doesn’t guarantee the success of your signage alone though. If your installation is to wow new clients, attract more custom, or convey important information effectively, you’ll need to give proper consideration to the actual content.

In this respect, the design and content of your digital signage is far more important than the hardware it’s played on.

Unfortunately, some businesses fall into the trap of purchasing amazing digital advertising hardware, but then neglecting to give the same attention to the design and content.

This is a huge mistake, akin to buying the most premium paper you can buy and then leaving it blank.

One common mistake that beginners often make is underestimating the difference between the image on your own computer monitor and the end result displayed on your digital signage.

There’s a whole raft of things to be aware of when it comes to digital advert design. Scale, resolution, positioning, all of these factors (and more) need to be considered when designing new content.

Novice designers will find themselves disappointed if they assume that the display on their digital signage will automatically look exactly like a design they’ve just created on their laptop or desktop computer.

There’s plenty to consider, but here’s a run down of some of the more crucial points that designers take into account each time they work on a new project to be displayed on a digital screen.

10 important aspects of signage design to be aware of

1. Define your signage’s purpose

Before you start to design any content, you need to have a clear idea in mind of what its purpose is. A notice board giving staff information on things mystery shoppers could be looking for, and a marketing campaign advert promoting a new two-for-one deal, should look completely different to one another.

Think about what success will mean for your signage’s purpose. Will it be aiming to intrigue potential customers and bring them into the store, or will it make it easier for staff to absorb new information?

If your advertising signage has been placed away from your store or office, you’ll need to make sure that customers are able to equate your message with your company.

Ensuring that your branding and logo are clearly visible on each screen of content is paramount to a customer’s understanding of who is offering them a particular deal.

Once your digital signage’s purpose has been defined, you can then work on designing your content in such a way to make it as effective as possible.

2. Be aware of your hardware’s compatibility

Often, when we talk about compatibility in terms of hardware, we’re referring to different types of software. When designing content for digital displays though, it’s important to understand if your hardware will display your content as you see it on your computer screen.

If your signage is displayed on a single TV screen, you’ll need to have your design in a 16:9 ratio, or even 9:16 if you use it in a portrait orientation.

This can be different to designs intended for the web, so check that whatever software you use has a relevant template. Tablets and iPads use a different screen ratio (iPads being 4:3), so bear that in mind if you utilise smaller digital signage.

Another factor to consider is the resolution of your screens. This refers to the number of pixels that your display can show. More pixels makes for a sharper image.

If you’ve gone to the effort of installing digital signage, then it makes sense to show off your content in the clearest and sharpest resolution possible.

If your screen is ‘ultra HD’ and can handle 3840x2160 pixels, then allow for that in your design. Alternatively, if your screens top out at 1920x1080 instead, then saving designs at the higher resolution will only serve to waste storage given its bigger file size.

3. The 3x5 text rule

This isn’t a rule that is unique to digital marketing, but one that should be at the forefront of every designer’s mind if they need something eye-catching.

It often doesn’t matter if the digital signage displays you use are a small tablet or a large 70 inch screen, if you have too much text on display, your design can look cluttered and too ‘busy’.

Obviously just how much text is ‘too much’ is fairly subjective. As a rough guide though, many use the 3x5 rule to keep their advertising clear and succinct.

The 3x5 rule dictates that advertising designs using text should have no more than three lines, and that each line contains a maximum of five words.

This makes it easy for people passing to digest the entire message quickly and easily. Very few people will stop to read signage with longer passages of text.

The 3x5 rule can also be utilised in reverse. Designers using a screen in portrait orientation may wish to opt for five lines with a maximum of three words each instead for example.

4. Proximity of the intended viewers

Of course, the 3x5 rule above doesn’t always make sense for every installation. The main thing to consider here is just how far away from the screen its potential viewers are likely to be.

Designing content with the 3x5 rule in mind is great for most distances in which a viewer isn’t expected to interact directly with the signage. Especially so for advertising that is hoped to be seen from a distance, up high, or driven past.

This changes however, when viewers are likely to be within close proximity to the signage. If your signage is interactive, it’s fair to assume that users will be stationary and situated close enough to the screen to enable them to type or choose options.

In this scenario, extra text can be easily digested by the viewer, who isn’t just passing by, and thus able to take on more information than a mere snippet.

Likewise, if giant video wall installations are erected in a relatively confined space, you can assume that viewers will be quite close to it. In this instance, big blocks of text such as those you might see in designs using the 3x5 rule, may actually be too large to be easily legible.

5. Choose fonts carefully

For anyone not versed in design principles, it can be easy to overlook the importance of font choice.

Those creating content for digital signage though, do so at their peril. The choice of font made for your signage can be one of the most important design decisions you can make.

This feeds straight back into the legibility aspect of some of the other points. Again, the text needs to be clear and easy enough to read for someone from a distance, or walking past.

To achieve this, it’s best to use san-serif fonts to create an unfussy appearance. Letters in serif fonts or those that are more stylised, can potentially blend into one another from a distance, making text tricky to read.

Clean, simple and bold fonts also have the benefit of portraying a more professional air to your signage. There’s a reason that fonts like Comic Sans are often maligned: you’re much more likely to see it used on a small and badly spelt local poster, than you are on any professional corporate documentation.

6. Remember your branding, but be prepared to make concessions

Any signage you have should tie in with your business branding somehow. This is especially true of signage situated away from your store or office, so that viewers can get a sense of which company the signage is referring to.

While it’s a good idea to use fonts that people associate with your brand, it can be possible to use too much. If your logo uses overly-stylised fonts, any attempt to write all of your text out with it will make for a messy design and tired eyes for your signage’s viewers.

You can understand why big brands like Disney keep their unmistakable font confined to their logo. Trying to read a passage of text in that font would be much more difficult than a standard font.

The same can be said for the use of colours. It’s recommended to try to keep to your brand’s colours if possible, but sticking rigidly to it regardless of how it looks is a mistake.

For example, if your branding were to use navy and purple as its colours, any attempt to have one overlaying the other wouldn’t work. Purple text, or images on a navy background would be almost invisible from a distance.

If any of these issues become a concern for your designs, one of the easiest ways to incorporate your branding is to simply add a logo in the corner of each screen.

7. Content Hierarchy

If there are several elements to your design, it’s worth taking a minute to work out the design hierarchy of your page.

All this means is that there may be certain images or words that are more important than others when conveying your message. This makes it easy for a viewer to see at a glance if the signage is of interest to them.

To use an example of signage in an opticians, campaign displays to promote a two-for-one deal might decide to make the ‘2 for 1’ text most prominent.

This is because customers can gauge what that means for them straight away, without much in the way of explanation needed. Similarly, as the customer is already inside an opticians, a large picture of some spectacles isn’t necessarily needed. The customer can easily intuit that the “2 for 1” refers to spectacles.

On the flipside, if the offer was instead that they’d be entitled to a free pair of sunglasses with each purchase of spectacles, an image of sunglasses might be the better option to make the most prominent feature on screen. This shows a viewer instantly that the message refers to sunglasses.

8. Testing and feedback

It’s important not to take the success of your design techniques for granted. Even seasoned designers ask for feedback occasionally.

If your aim is to make people aware of an event that starts at a particular time and date for instance, it’s worth asking someone to look over your work, then ask them if they can tell you the details without looking back at your design. If you find that most people can, you’re probably on the right track!

If you’ve set up your design with the hope that viewers’ eyes will be drawn to a specific element first, ask your test subjects if this was the case for them.

Be prepared to tweak your design so that it performs the function you want it to for the people giving you feedback. As creator of the design, you’ll find yourself slightly biased, and after looking at the same thing for so long, you’ll struggle to get a real grasp of how someone just glancing at it, or seeing it for the first time interprets your design.

9. Alignment

As mentioned beforehand, the image you see on your screen when designing, may differ in some ways when displayed on your digital signage hardware.

One common mistake that novices make is not allowing for a border. The border doesn’t even have to be visible, but by centering your images and text, you can save some issues further down the line.

The problem being that you may find that if your content is too close to the edges, it gets cut off, or ‘bleeds’ off the edges of the screen. Giving your design some space around the edges preempts any such issues, and looks tidier in general too.

10. Colours and contrast

When presented with an almost unlimited colour palette, it’s easy to opt for our favourite colours. There’s a couple of things to take heed of when choosing for digital signage designs though.

Some colours seem to have an almost inherent quality to them that is understood by consumers. Yellow, for example, seems like a fresh and summery colour to use for most people.

Because of this, if your design was advertising a thirst-quenching, citrusy summer drink, brown would be an odd choice to use for it. There’s little reasoning behind it, but yet it still seems to make sense to most.

Pay close attention to how colours contrast against each other too. Signage should always be clear to read, and colours offering a strong contrast make for a much more crisp and eye-catching design.

Start with the experts

While it’s certainly possible to create your own content, just a quick glance over some of the factors to consider when creating designs for digital signage will show you that it’s not as simple as throwing a few images and some text together and hoping for the best.

It’s highly recommended that you hire a specialist design agency to navigate the many different options and potential pitfalls of digital marketing content design.

This list barely scratches the surface of what’s involved in the design process, and that’s after any software considerations are taken care of.

Our team creates and manages content specifically for digital signage, meaning that we’re able to foresee any problems with your design ideas long before they cause any issues, and work with businesses to make those ideas even better.

For more information regarding getting started with your designs, or if you want our team to analyse your current stylings and put together a new approach, we’d love to help.

Get in touch with the team via our contact form or call at your earliest convenience on +353 (087) 251 5885.


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