Friday, October 30, 2009

Digial Signage: Waiting For The Tipping Point

A point in time when momentum for change becomes unstoppable.

When will this time come, or has it already for digital signage? I figure I would weigh in, every market research company has and charges lots of money too, so why not me on my two cents worth blog? I have a lot of industry experience and insight to draw upon, and besides its free. Simply put, I am going with 2010. While it is a nice round number, it also appears that several more stars, industry outlooks and consumer trends, will be aligning and create even more momentum and reasons to consider investing in a digital sign solution for your business. What are those trends and indicators? A couple of the many I came across preparing an update for a recent strategy presentation for a client are as follows:

1. IT spending. Its forecast to rebound in 2010 with context aware computer spending, like digital signage, a key area (CAC uses things like location, presence and other social & environmental information to aniticpate an end-user's needs).
3. Decling Print Ad Sales. One man's loss is another ones gain I suppose. As magazines and newspapers continue to shutter, digital out of home and digital merchandising spends will gain more momentum and continue to grow.
4. Burger King Revamp. BK recently announced an effort to revamp all 12,000 stores with a sleek new interior design that includes digital menu boards. While 12,000 locations is a ginormous amount (as my daughter likes to say) and whether they even ever get passed 1,000 only time will tell. But the significance is the trickle-down effect this will have on the many other large and small fast food and fast casual restaurant chains that will look to emulate this.
5. Detroit Airport Mandate. As part of a huge redesign the Detroit Metro Airport mandated that all new foodservice vendors with menu displays use a digital menu board system.

You can see how it all begins to add up. Not to mention price erosion continuing in hardware and the consumers insatiable appetite for more information and desire to be able to make more informed decisions at point of sale. The day is fast approacning when most new construction and renovation projects incorporate digital merchandising of some form or another. Its no longer a matter of if but when, 2010.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Using Google SketchUp For Digital Signage Project Development

I have spent a lot of time using all sorts of 3D CAD software designing everything from small handheld products to full blown 100’ x 100’ trade show exhibits, so I was a bit skeptical when I finally got around to trying out SketchUp, a free 3D CAD software application from Google. Ever since Alias Sketch! was cancelled it has been difficult to find a quick and easy replacement to create 3D models on a Mac, but to my surprise I was impressed. Now SketchUp doesn’t have the rendering engine to generate incredible 3D photorealistic images like Alias Sketch! did, but it does good enough and includes texture mapping and animation capabilities ideal for doing an interior fly through of a proposed Digital Signage installation. SkecthUp also does not have the sculpting ability that other 3D CAD applications have to create complex organic shapes, but for modeling 3D store interiors, kiosks and merchandising fixtures it’s a breeze. In addition, thanks to Google’s efforts to model all the worlds’ architecture with SketchUp in Google Maps, there is a HUGE repository of all sorts of SketchUp 3D models available for free download. Using this library helps add detail and accuracy to your models quick and easily. Google SketchUp is currently available for free or a fee but with all the functionality packed into the free version there is plenty you can do at no charge. More consultants and integrators specializing in digital signage should use SketchUp to help avoid common miscommunications with clients in advance of those costly and time-consuming on-site installation misunderstandings.

Monday, September 14, 2009

GET may do for Digital Signage too (Good Enough Tech)

In addition to being green, mass transit does have other advantages to driving yourself to the office. For example, you can read something interesting too.
A good read on my commute to NYC this morning came from the recent issue of WIRED magazine. From netbooks to Flip camcorders, sometimes the low cost simple tech is good enough to transform an entire industry, trading power or fidelity in exchange for low price, flexibility, and convenience. Case in point, using Google SketchUp in new and interesting ways (more on this to follow). Can you think of many Digital Signage solutions that GET the it? I can. Drop me an email if you would like to find out more.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Infographics Worth 1000's Of Words

While your customers might not dwell long enough to delve into graphically rich information displayed on your digital sign, a well designed infographic can draw your attention and explain complex information quickly and easily through the use of graphics and visuals instead of lots and lots of text. A treasure trove of examples have been archived by the folks at Good Magazine on Flickr here. And the grandfather of the infographic Richard Saul Wurman published a great compilation from industry leading designers called Understanding USA.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Digital Sign Networks Step #2 Content Content Content

A couple of mantras to consider posting on your creative directors wall or better yet, anybody's wall who develops your digital signage content or thinks they now how to design effective and compelling content for Digital Signage networks:
- "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler," Albert Einstein
- "Simplicity is the key to happiness in the modern world," the Dalai Lam
"Less is more," Mies van der Rohe
Read why simplcty is the key for outdoor creative competing for the attention of today's time starved consumer.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Digital Sign Networks Step #1 Location Location Location

Whether you want to install a digital signage network that is supported by advertising or fo in-store merchandising and messaging be sure to study layout and customer flow (in addition to installation considerations). Locating a digital sign in the correct location will help increase impulse purchases at point-of-sale, reduce perceived wait time, spread word-of-mouth, increase recall, and improve overall customer in-store experience.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Scalable Vector Graphics To The Digital Signage Rescue?

Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG), is a language that describes a drawing based on the points and shapes that compose them so they can be displayed in any resolution as clearly as possible. Compared to pixel graphics like clipart using BMP or JPEG formats, SVG is typically a smaller files size and requires less CPU power for play back. It is also royalty free and an open standard. Developers can build and add functionality to an SVG file. Programming (scripting and event support) can be used as a platform to build graphically rich applications and user interfaces. SpinetiX, based in Switzerland, has done this with a new digital signage solution. In the process they have created one of the smallest hardware players in the industry along with one of the best warranties, lifetime. Their tiny Hyper Media Player (HMP) come with a Win PC authoring tool (The Hyper Media Director, HMD) so you do not need to be an SVG programming wiz to create content to distribute to your HMP (using either internet or a removable thumb drive). In a marketplace where many solutions are available and similar, SpinetiX is a breath of fresh air, an innovative and exciting new solution. XML & Javascript gurus of the world: sign-up now for your free trial version.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Infocomm 2009: Digital Signage Recap

Attendance was down and exhibitors scaled back (like every show this year), but digital signage is growing. The Digital Signage showcase area of the expo floor is taking up more and more space at this annual show, the premier event for the Professional AV industry, with more and more affordable solutions. My quick take:
1. Still a lot of companies. There are a lot of digital signage companies competing for market share. Differentiation is the key. When will attrition and or the mergers begin?
2. Say hello to Atom. The new Intel Atom processor is now appearing in commercial-grade media players for digital signage in the $500 price range.
  Atom based consumer-grade netbooks with more then adequate video output capabilities are already available for $250.
3. Easy content creation for networked signage. FrameMedia has been offering the FrameChannel content management service for wireless photo frame owners for over 3 years now. With SignChannel, a $15/month business solution, hundreds of channels
of content (news, weather, sports, financial data, etc) along with editable templates for professional looking content on your digital sign is now affordable and easy to do.
4. Do you want live TV content with your signage? Roku/BrightSign had several new product announcements. In particular, a live video module that connects to a BrightSign player lets you display live TV in a predefined zone. The total price for this solution will be less than $1,000, a new and more affordable low.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Barrier To Entry Has Been Removed

Having spent many years in digital signage growing channel distribution and strategic partnerships for a tier 1 global LCD manufacturing leader, going after the millions of small business owners with affordable solutions was never priority #1, going after opportunities that could lead to thousands of units was. Perhaps that makes sense for a huge corporation, developing one for many opportunites instead of many for one. However I have since moved on and continue to be amazed at how inexpensive the investment is for a small business owner to get a digital signage solution. This was one of the compelling reasons why I started consulting in this area. As I head off to InfoComm this week, the professional AV industry premier event of the year, I expect to see more product offerings with more advanced capabilities at more affordable prices for small business owners to consider. My next post will talk about some of the specifics I found of interest.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Digital Signage & The Great White Way

New York City is a great barometer of established and emerging trends. A walk around Time Square and then towards the Empire State Building reveals that Digital Signage in foodservice has taken hold. Flat panel displays can be found in many restaurants as enitre menu boards, in hybrid menu boards (combining static menus with a flat panel display), or as promotional signage in portrait mode advertising daily specials. The entire menu board array is quite impressive and in some cases incorporates automatic changes based on inventory, environmental or price control triggers. Still pretty much state-of-theart stuff. Short term however a simple mpg/jpg player and inexpensive flat panel display is a way to benefit from some of the same advantages the state-of-the-art solution offers (improved efficiency, sales revenue, customer experience, brand impression, etc) but a much less cost.

Friday, May 15, 2009

K&G Digital Signage, The New Black

K&G, a value oritented fashion superstore, recently launched an ad campaign that pokes fun at high priced departent stores and promotes that K&G offers the same clothes as department stores, but at much lower prices. While walking in NYC I came across their flagship store (across from the Chrysler Building) and saw about 6 displays in their window being use more like a prop then a digital sign (pictured above). Not exactly sure why, perhaps K&G thinks digital signage is exorbitantly expensive and is only viable for use in over priced departmetn stores? If so, K&G needs to have someone come in and educate them about how many good inexpensive "value oritented" digital signage solutions are available in the market place today. Any other ideas?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Caught In A Bind About Aspect Ratio & Size?

One of the keys to prepping and designing screen layouts for digital signage is to size your content accurately from a pixel size and aspect ratio point of view. The sooner you do this in the development phase the better. That way less time is spent fixing and modifying things later because you are either working in the wrong pixel dimensions or aspect ratio. A couple of great tools I use is this Video Resolutions Chart (pictured above) and Andrew Hedge’s Aspect Ratio Calculator.

And should you ever be on-site somewhere and be without your ruler you can print one out from here (keep in mind printer accuracy may vary).

Thursday, April 30, 2009

To Ticker, Flipper, Scroll or Crawl...Or Not At All, Part Deux

In a previous post I talked about how, depending on your digital signage objectives and the dwell time of your customer, whether a text crawl adds or distracts. A recent NYTimes story talks about how some TV networks have been leaving their crawl live during commercials to help; a) keep viewers tuned in to the commercial itself and, b) less likely to change the channel. So while the crawl may keep TV viewers tuned in, especially during commercials, the TV show they are watching is the prime reason why they are tuned to a specific TV network to being with. Translated to a digital signage layout, that should make use of a crawl (ticker, flipper, scroll or otherwise) a distant second to the main message that you are trying to captivate your audience with.

Friday, April 24, 2009

I Spy Something Wrong With This Digital Sign

What is worse then a digital sign suffering from BSOD disease (Blue Screen Of Death)? How about a digital sign suffering from working, but not very well (as pictured above)? I came across this the other day in a local supermarket. Its frustrating to see. A company invests in digital signage, but due to poor execution will most likely not be investing more any time soon. On the other hand, it is digital signage and you should be able to correct these problems without having to physically change the sign itself, no? A couple of observations...

#1. Let's print out a message from the PC and tape it on the digital sign. Why? Hopefully people are looking at the digital sign while they wait for their 1/4lb of smoked turkey breast. I would venture to guess that unfortunately, this digital signage solution is simply inaccessible to the end-user and too complicated for store level managers to operate and printing a sign with their PC was easier. It doesn't have to be this way. If you would like to manage content, be able to change certain parts or pieces of the digital sign, or modify a playlist with an unscheduled special offer, then an appropriate easy-to-use solution should have been specified.

#2. You can drive a truck through the black area around the image and the physical bezel around the flat panel display. This is either a problem with the output/player hardware communicating to the display or the display not synching properly to the output/player hardware. Either way, it appears nobody has trained the staff on how to troubleshoot this problem or nobody is monitoring the status of this location on the network.

#3. Now serving, #75. Again with the appropriate digital signage solution a clerk at the counter can advance a counter and the order number being served can advance on the digital sign, or at least install them next to each other so people will watch what is on the digital sign too. An on-site assessment is essential for all digital sign installations and should have been done and at least revealed this opportunity to improve upon the current situation.

#4. And then there are all of those other pieces of paper taped above the "Now Serving" sign. Well those are just for store employees, but perhaps they could be placed in a little less conspicuous location next time.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

To Ticker, Flipper, Scroll or Crawl...Or Not At All

It has been proven that your brain remembers better when it is processing one thing at a time. While that is paramount to remember when designing content for digital signage, there are always exceptions. A menu board with multiple selections to choose from perhaps or an information display that communicates status and advertising for commuters or shoppers in a public space. If taking into account your clients objectives and the dwell time of your audience requires and or allows you to present more information on a screen at a time, then do so with caution and be sure to do so with a well executed design plan. And dont forget, digital signage software providers love tickers. Most all have some way of providing either RSS feeds or text crawls to your digital sign, but what is the most effective way in which to provide these little snippets of information? If they truly are snippets then forget it. Do away with the clutter a text crawl introduces and what's left on screen will communicate much better. But if you must, consider the flipper instead of the ticker or crawl. CNN has, and for what its worth, if you want to communicate a complete thought quick and efficiently, the flipper does a good job. Instead of display multiple scrolling stories or information, one story or piece of information is presented at a time with an animated transition between each one.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Remembering What You See Requires Focused Attention

Bigger better faster cheaper and on and on it goes. While this phenomenon has helped give rise to the digital signage industry and countless other more efficient processes, thanks in part to being able to do more with less, it does not mean open season on displaying as much information as possible on a beautiful state-of-the-art high resolution flat panel display just because you can.

Being able to view and take in a lot of information may be necessary for analytical applications and operation centers but for your typical digital signage display, I don't think so. If there is a method and a logic to the way in which you lay out and design the information to appear on a screen maybe, but always keep in mind whether or not it meets the objective of your client and the dwell time of the audience. A Carnegie Mellon brain imaging study showed that when performing two tasks at once, a person's brain activity is only 56 percent of what it was when focused on the two activities separately. In other words, when you try to do or look at too many things at once, your brain doesn't work as well. As a college professor of mine would always say, "KISS" or Keep It Simple Stupid!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Digital Signage Information Anxiety, When A Third Of Everything Is Still A Lot:

"Information anxiety", a phrase coined by TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) conference series founder Richard Saul Wurman, would be appropriate to describe the feeling someone might get with interest in investing in digital signage technology to improve their business. One only needs to Google “digital signage” to see the amount of hits the term receives, many of which are from companies with product solutions.

I like to divide things into thirds, whether it be a screen layout or a good better and best product line-up, but when about a third of all available digital signage solutions (some pictured above) is still a lot, there is bound to be difficulty and confusion trying to decide on which one is right for you and your business. Based on an assessment of your needs and an understanding of your expectations I can help identify which solution would be best for you and help turn your anxiety into happiness.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Brief Introduction...

I recently started my own consultant business called Designage ( based on the tremendous upside that digital signage technology possesses and my ability to help guide and advise; a) individual end users interested in taking advantage of this technology, and b) companies interested in reselling digital signage products and services.

My background is in creative design and I am a visual person. Most recently I helped grow the flat panel display business at Sharp Electronics Corporation primarily through the expansion of the vertical market distribution channel, building business relationships with industry leaders in vertical markets like digital signage. I have a passion for design and technology. If you like please take a look at my previous business and design accomplishments portfolio here:

Through this blog I hope to inform you about the digital signage industry from my point-of-view (as well as other interesting tidbits I am also passionate about). If you find the blog informative and what I choose to post and my perspective interesting, perhaps you should give me call and learn how I can help grow your business.