How to maximize audience engagement with the right kinds of content

How to maximize audience engagement with the right kinds of content

The whole point of your digital signage is to get your audience to stop, pay attention and take whatever action your message asks them to.
How should you present the information – which type of content is right for each message? Should you use a still message, or one with motion? Would the message be better served by being on a touchscreen?
You need the right message for audience engagement.


Still images and messages present information in a way that is familiar. They’re similar to print in the way information is organized and presented, except the quality doesn’t degrade over time, there’s no clutter with multiple messages, there’s nothing to throw away and messages drop off the playlist when no longer relevant (so it’s environmentally conscious as well as time-saving).

The most basic type of still message is simple text – just make sure it’s large enough and contrasted with the background enough to be easy to read from a distance or as people walk past. Overly decorative fonts are not really suitable for digital signage – clear and clean san serif fonts are best. And make sure the background color or design is simple and is there to enhance the perception of the text. A cluttered background confuses the eye and the text, so the message gets lost.

If you want to attract people to a message about, say, an autumn special, and the content creator thinks images of pumpkins and colored leaves will grab people’s attention, don’t try to put text over imagery – simply add a nice picture next to the text.

Pictures should be high-res and formatted to your display’s resolution or the settings of the content zone the message is in. An exploded, pixelated image looks amateurish and detracts from the credibility of the message. The same goes for an image that is stretched or squashed. It’s better to have one good high-quality image than clutter up the screen with several pictures. Consider using silhouettes and other visual hooks from time to time – they’re clean and easy to notice from a distance.

Many of the same design ideas that apply to print also apply to still digital signage messages, with one major exception: a print ad in a magazine can be looked at for a long time by a reader, and so it can contain lots of information and images. A digital signage message is up on the screen for around 20 seconds or less, and most people who see it are moving through your space, on their way somewhere with other things on their minds, and so you only have around a two-to-five-second window (depending on sightlines) to attract their attention and get them to slow down and take in what the message says. Keep it simple, clean and direct.

However, a playlist of just still images quickly becomes part of the background to your audience, and all the messages lose impact. You want some movement on screen to create variety and excitement.


Humans have evolved to notice things moving out of the corner of our eyes. Way back when, it was to notice potential dangers – today, in our increasingly information-rich environments, motion attracts us to potential interests and opportunities. Digital signage is dynamic, and motion is certainly part of that.

Video is a great addition to digital signage messages. Done right, a short video can tell a whole story that first attracts and then captivates your audience, making them receptive to the actual purpose of the message.

The video needs to be clear, enticing and brief – again, your message is only going to be up for a short span of time, so try to keep it to 20 seconds or less. This could be anything from a high-resolution “commercial” to an animated PowerPoint.

Sound is always a question – to use it or not? If it isn’t annoying or too distracting in the physical environment the display is in, then why not? It’s another tool to attract attention. But in many locations, sound would irritate people, adding to a sense of cacophony that would turn people off to the message. Test it out and see where, if anywhere, in your facility sound might be an enhancement.

If you can’t use sound, make sure all of the important information is shown on screen in the video. If you include text, make sure you can quickly read the entire text three times in the time it is displayed, and adjust the length of display time until you can. And make sure you can see the text well from all angles.

Video is not the only sort of motion available to you. Having a moving ticker across the top or bottom of the screen can attract people just as easily while also conveying quite a lot of information. We’re used to seeing tickers on news channels, and audiences tend to gravitate to the familiar. People will often see the motion of the ticker, turn to look at it, and stop to read more as it scrolls into view – this means their likely to also look at other messages that are on screen at that time.

Moving text takes two to ten times longer to comprehend than still text, and the faster it’s moving, the harder it is to understand. Interestingly, text that fades in and then out, as opposed to scrolling, is easier to recall later. So, be smart with your ticker effects and speed.

When designing for video walls, don’t forget to consider the bezels around each of the screens. Keeping this in mind will help make a smooth and attractive large-scale motion image.

You can also include a slow pan, either across or zooming in or out, with still images – what is sometimes referred to in design circles as the “Ken Burns Effect”. A modern variant of this is a new type of GIF called the cinemograph – a still image with a single moving element that repeats (for example, a picture of a wine bottle pouring wine into a wine glass, and only the wine is moving; or a picture of a tropical beach scene, but only the palm fronds are moving in a slight breeze).

Animated icons can also be just enough motion to draw someone’s eye to the display, especially if it’s for something useful like current weather or traffic.

A perfect digital signage deployment uses both still and motion images. A playlist of only still images becomes boring, but a playlist that is always full of moving, jiggling, spinning items can quickly become tiresome. Imagine walking past a screen with animated weather icons, a video playing, another content window with moving text, and a ticker scroll going across the bottom. It would become the visual equivalent of white noise, and possibly alienates viewers. Mix both kinds of messages in a judicious and thoughtful way that maximizes each message’s impact.


Both still and motion messages are passive, meaning that all the audience can do is look at it and then maybe follow through later on a call to action. But today’s world is a connected one, and people are used to being able to search for information they want, and that means interacting with your messages. The fact is, even though you may currently have only static displays for your digital signage, you’re going to have to start including interactive touchscreens sooner or later. As more and more organizations do this, it’s becoming expected, and places that don’t have interactive capabilities will begin to look old-fashioned and out of date.

Interactive content can be just about anything – links out to webpages and websites, menu boards that show not just what’s on offer but also nutritional and allergy information (and can even integrate with a reservation and ordering system to streamline the entire process), directories and wayfinding, alumni and donor boards, and many other possibilities. Extremely large amounts of information can be accessed using interactive kiosks, but it isn’t overwhelming to the audience because they are in control of what they see and when they see it.

There’s a lot of talk these days about giving people a more “consumer-like experience”, and what consumers today do is use mobile devices to interact with everything from news sources and local information guides to local transportation and entertainment venues. Interactive displays give them that same type of experience, which is already familiar and valued.

You can combine interactive capabilities with still and motion digital signage, providing your audience with everything they might possibly need or want. As in all communications, the medium should be tailored to the message, so decide which works best where.


If interactive is the next step, the step after that is mobile. People already use their mobile devices all the time, everywhere they go that has wifi (and soon just about everywhere will have wifi). Literally anything with a screen can be a digital sign, and that includes the screens people already carry with them – smartphones, tablets and laptops.

Allowing people to access your messages from their mobile devices means that they always have your digital signage with them – whether they’re in front of your display or not. Depending on your system, you can push messages out via RSS, or use an app to let people see your playlists. Whichever method you offer, it should be voluntary and easy to use. If people have to tap their screen more than three times to get what they need, they’ll likely abandon it.


Effective digital signage incorporates all four of these types of content. How can you determine if your messages, no matter which type, will get the job done?

Have a test run – display your messages and then walk through the facility to see what attracts your attention. If the message is still, what attracted you to it – the picture, the text font and size, the background? If it’s a motion message, did the motion attract you or was it something else? If it wasn’t the motion, perhaps that message would be better served by being a still. If interactive, did the message make you want to interact with it? If there’s a mobile version, does it look good and scale to each device, and is it easy to navigate?

You should also watch people as they move through your facility. When do people turn to look at the displays? When do they stop. Do they use the URL or QR code you provided, or take whatever action the message prompts them to? Did it seem like using your interactive directory was easy, or are people frustrated when trying to find what they’re looking for? Are people downloading your apps? If not, why not?

Digital signage is dynamic, and so is your audience. To engage them, you need to find the right balance of message and media to engage, inform and entertain. Remember that form always follows function – the message comes first, then the design and delivery method. If you stay true to that, you can reach more people more often with more things that they want and need.

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