Comprehensive digital signage design, installation and management services.
Comprehensive digital signage design, installation and management services.

Ultimate Guide To Digital Signage Content Creation

Digital signage can be a powerful tool for conveying your marketing or internal communications messages, but without good content, it’s like having a hammer without any nails.  Any content you create needs to be carefully planned to be successful and have the desired effect on the people you’re trying to reach. 

The best-planned displays can be ruined by poor content — and we see that happening far too often – that’s why we’ve put together this ultimate guide to digital signage content creation, to help you navigate the issues involved in successful content creation.

 

The four digital signage content creation questions

When it comes to digital signage, there are four key questions that you need to answer before creating any content:

1. How much information should I include?

2. What format should the information be in?

3. How long should it be on screen for?

4. How frequently should it appear?

Unfortunately, the answer to each and every one of these questions is “it depends”, and there are numerous considerations that will affect what each of your answers to the “four questions” are going to be.

 

The top 10 content decision-making factors

There are ten key factors that will affect what content you use on your digital signage displays and when. 

Each is important in its own right, but the priority for one factor may conflict with another. Consider each point and draw up a list of your top priorities to bear in mind when creating your content.

1. Message complexity – Will people have an understanding of the subject matter, or do they need background information to understand your message? Consider whether the subject matter is complicated or completely new to most of your target audience. If so, your content should ideally be in video format and will need more time on-screen to help your audience understand the subject.  With longer, more complex content, there’s a balance to be struck with regard to repetition. You need to make sure the audience has enough opportunity to learn and remember your message, but there are also needs to be simple, easy-to-understand content alongside it as a contrast, or your audience will simply switch off due to information overload.

2. Message immediacy – Is there a timeframe related to the message? For example, are you promoting an event, or is it a promotion that will expire soon? The shorter the timeframe that the audience needs to do something in, the simpler and more striking the information should be. It should also appear more frequently in order to keep reinforcing the limited availability of the call to action.

3. Message intent – What are you intending to achieve? Do you want the target audience to simply remember your product or service, or is the aim for them to immediately buy it? Are you aiming for them to change their behaviour or opinions on a particular subject? If it’s a “no-brainer” as far as your audience is concerned, then you should keep your message simple and succinct. The less clear the benefit to the audience is, then the more time and effort you need to spend on getting them “on side”.Man and woman looking at digital signage screen in a car showroom

4. Message novelty – Is your target audience hearing the message for the first time or the tenth? Are you saying something completely new, or are your messages getting stale? Newer messages need to be shown with greater frequency and more detail to get the message across. Older messages should be a short, simple reminder shown infrequently.

5. Target audience proximity – Are people likely to see the content at different proximities? If so, will it be easy to see both close up and far away? Alternatively, are you intending for your target audience to be close to the screen and/or selecting information using a touch screen? The closer your audience is to the screen and the more interactive it is, the more detail you can include. The further away your audience will be from the screen, then the simpler and more succinct the message needs to be.

6. Target audience situation – Is your target audience going to be walking or driving past? For an audience that’s rushing past, you need to make your content as visually stimulating and concise as possible, in order to make an impact and get your message across. If you have a captive audience, are they looking to be entertained, informed or inspired? The more time your audience is likely to spend in front of the screen, the more complex and detailed the messages can be. For a captive audience, focus on a narrative rather than a short and snappy message. Will your audience see the message repeatedly or do you only have one chance to get your message across? If you only have a single opportunity to grab your audience’s attention, your content has to be as engaging and memorable as possible.

7. Target audience receptiveness – Does your audience need or want the information, and will they trust what you’re telling them? Audiences at an airport will happily stand looking at digital signage waiting for ten minutes to get the gate number for a flight, but the same people wouldn’t dream of doing the same to learn about a new cleaning product. The more receptive the audience is, the simpler the message can be. It should also be more frequent for a receptive audience, as it’s information that they welcome or are entertained by. 

8. Distractions – Is there competition from other messages being communicated near to the screen? For example, will people have a continuous, clear view of the screen, or could it be partially covered by people or vehicles? The greater the number of distractions, the more visually stimulating and engaging the content should be if you want to steal people’s attention away. It should also be as short and simple a message as possible, to avoid their attention being drawn away before your message is conveyed in full.

9. Screen size – How dominant is the screen in its environment, and how many people can see the screen at once? Consider the context of your screen and how much of a feature it is within its surrounding environment. Small screens tend to be used for a more receptive audience that wants specific information. Large screens are used for grabbing attention.

10. Audio – Do you need sound to achieve your aims? Creating content with audio can be more expensive, but it’s also more engaging. It can be used to convey lots of information quickly without filling the screen with details. However, if there’s likely to be a lot of background noise, a suitable sound system must be in place to prevent the audio from being drowned out.

Once you’ve considered each one of these ten factors, along with the four questions, then you’ll be in a position to prioritise which are the most important and plan your content accordingly.

Wall-mounted digital signage on a railway platform showing train proximity

Best practice 

Strategy

Prioritisation – Prioritise your messages and consider your reasons for each decision. Once you know which are your high- and low-priority messages, then you can more easily decide how much airtime each should get and where and when they should be positioned on screen. 

It will also help you understand how much time and resource should be spent on creating content for each of your messages. 

 

Composition

There are a number of rules for getting the composition of on-screen content right, but these are the most important:

  • Leading the eye – Make it clear where you want your audience to look. If you have too many details showing simultaneously in different areas of the screen, this will make it harder for people to recognise the most important elements of the content. Prioritise information and imagery so that all your audience members will look at the most important detail first, then the other details in order of importance.
  • The rule of thirds – This is a technique used to give balance to the composition of your content. Mentally divide your screen into nine sections (like a noughts and crosses board) and position your most important content along section dividers — horizontally, vertically or on the central intersection points. This also ensures there is enough empty space and makes sure your content isn’t too tightly packed with detail.
  • Prioritisation – Identify the content that’s of greatest value to the viewer and make it the largest and boldest. 
  • Borders – Avoid positioning important content around the edges of the screen’s frame, since people’s eyes will naturally be drawn towards the centre of a screen
  • Elements – To avoid cluttering the screen, aim to have a maximum of three elements in your content, since a cluttered screen makes it hard for your audience to mentally process the information. This could be a headline (ideally a font size of 40pt.), supporting text (no less than 24 pt.) and a call to action (around 32 pt.). Ensure that there’s a suitable amount of space between each element to create contrast and hierarchy between them.
  • Accessibility – If you’re creating content for touchscreen, ensure that people of all different heights and those in wheelchairs can reach all of the touchpoints. 

 

Text

  • Word count – If information is not contained in a table (such as timetables or prices) or appearing on interactive screens, there should be a maximum of 35 words on screen at a time. Headlines should ideally be five words or less.
  • Fonts – Are your fonts easy to read? The simpler the font, the better, simply because they’re easier to read at a distance. Avoid fonts that are light or have detailing, such as Times New Roman or other serif fonts. Instead, aim for sans serif fonts.
  • Ideal font sizes – Your audience’s likely proximity to a screen will affect the font size you need to use. Ideal font sizes in relation to audience proximity are:
    • 10 metres = 14
    • 20 metres = 16
    • 30 metres = 18
    • 40 metres = 20
    • 50 metres = 22
  • Alignment – If using the standard, modern alphabet, your text should always be justified from the left, since that’s easier for humans to mentally process. Centring of text should only be used when you have a small amount of text (eight words or less). Avoid long lines of text, especially when you have short lines, as this makes them harder to read.

 

Imagery

  • Image resolution – Images should be no smaller than 72 DPI (dots per inch).
  • Aspect ratio – When using images full screen, they must be sized for the screen’s aspect ratio (the ratio between the screen’s length and width). This is particularly important if you have screens in your estate with different aspect ratios (e.g. portrait and landscape).
Examples of aspect ratio and HD screen pixels

Examples of aspect ratio and HD screen pixels

  • HD/4K – While HD and 4K screens may be the same size with regards to the diagonal measurement in inches between opposite corners (e.g. top left and bottom right), the level of detail they carry is different.  A 4K screen has more pixels than an HD screen, making it effectively ultra-high definition, so that it can carry more detail. For example, if you have a standard, landscape HD screen with a 16:9 aspect ratio, the resolution will be 1920×1080. If you have a 4K screen with the same aspect ratio, the resolution will be 3840×2160. As such, images need to be sized for the appropriate screen size and the number of pixels your screen has.
  • Quality – Use professionally taken images or video wherever possible. This will ensure that they’ll come over with a polished look and that the file is large enough. If you don’t have enough suitable imagery, use online libraries to purchase stock images or video (e.g. Shutterstock).

 

Timings

When considering timings, you shouldn’t just think about how long a piece of content is on screen for, but also how often it should be repeated, and when to shop showing it. 

When determining the length of time images or video should be on screen, always calculate the amount of time the audience is likely to be seeing it for — the dwell time. A captive audience (e.g. cinema-goers waiting for a film to start or passengers waiting for a train or plane), for instance, is likely to have a long dwell time, whereas passing traffic will have a short dwell time.

Long dwell time

If your audience has a long dwell time, timings should be calculated so they have time to take in the message, but not to get bored with it.

    • Static messages – A static message should be on screen for no less than 8 seconds and no more than 35 seconds.
    • Video length – A video should be on screen for no less than 20 seconds and no more than 3 minutes.
Short dwell time

If your audience has a short dwell time (e.g someone walking past a shop window with digital signage in it, a driver passing some outdoor digital signage), the emphasis should be on making sure they see all the necessary elements before moving on.

    • Adverts/messages — You should aim for your adverts and messages to be around 15 seconds long. After 25 seconds people’s attention span wanes and their interest reduces.
    • Repetition – The same content shouldn’t be repeated less than 2 minutes apart unless it’s functional information contained within a table (e.g. a timetable or box-office availability).
    • Retiring content – Arrange the scheduling of your messages so that the target audience doesn’t see the same message more than 15 times within 2 months. 

 

Impact

  • Video – The beauty of digital signage is that it can show video, which is much more attention grabbing than static images. Where possible, always aim to use video footage or animation, rather than static images or text, as they are more attention-grabbing and engaging. For more information on why this is, check out our ‘why use digital signage’ article.
  • Colours  – Use colours that contrast well. Use a colour wheel and pick colours either on opposite sides or sitting side by side. For more guidance, check out the Canva colour wheel guide. Aim to restrict yourself to three colours, using one colour for 60% of the design, a second for 30% of the design and a third accent colour for 10% of the design.
  • Reconnaissance – Don’t just look at the creative on your desktop PC in isolation. Look at it in context, and match your customer’s journey using a tablet device, or else run it when the venue is closed to see how well it works in context. Is it similar to other messages in the surrounding area, or does it stand out? Is the text easy to see and read considering the audience’s proximity to it? Also, consider if it’s likely that there will be a lot of people in the area potentially blocking the screen? 
  • Differentiation – Don’t show multiple pieces of content that look alike, one after another. Instead, intersperse content of different formats, styles, looks and feels. This will catch people’s eyes and avoid your content stream from becoming monotonous and boring.
  • Contrast – Does the imagery you’re using blend into its environment or stand out from it? If it doesn’t stand out enough, could you use unlikely imagery or analogies to grab people’s attention?
  • Washes – If you’re going to use a photo or video as a background with text over the top, this can look too cluttered. Consider instead using a colour “wash” over the image to make the text stand out more, while still retaining the imagery you want to use.

 

Scheduling

  • Timing – When scheduling your content, consider the time you’ll be showing it at. For example, you might only show promotional offers for alcohol at night, when people are more likely to want to buy it. Content aimed at kids or families should be shown during the weekend or in school holidays when these are more likely to be out and about. 
  • Proximity – Think about the physical journey your audience will take and whether you could use neighbouring screens to promote products or services to interest someone in the area. For example, a cinema could target its film ads around when different types of movies are playing.  Audiences watching an action film are more likely to be interested in watching other action films, than in a romance or family film.
  • Screen splitting – This is something we at Saturn take for granted, but it’s easy to forget that you can show more than one type of content on a screen at the same time. With digital signage you could, for instance, show a trailer and the film times simultaneously, or show a product video and the prices together. 

 

Smarter content

Video wall at an ODEON cinema

Video wall at an ODEON cinema

  • QR codes – People have a short attention span, so you can’t expect them to remember lots of information all at once. If you show promotional information about a product on a screen with a QR code alongside it, your audience has the opportunity to take the information (and the means to buy your product) away with them.
  • Time-dependant schedules – Don’t just schedule your content to loop indefinitely. Different demographics will be more likely to visit your premises at different times and for different reasons. Schedule your content in line with who your target audience will be at different times of the day, and what your event calendar is. For example, at lunchtime, the audience might be workers, who’ll have a limited timeframe. Similarly, families coming on Saturday afternoons will be interested in different topics from students on a Saturday night. If you are promoting an event, schedule content to appear more regularly the closer to the event you get. 
  • Personalisation – Generic messages don’t have as much impact as personalised ones, so design messages that will convey the personality of your brand or address a specific audience. For instance, you might consider using regional dialects for different stores/venues/leisure destinations. At the same time, you could have greetings for different times of the day or locations — “Good morning, Manchester.” “Get ready for the weekend, London!”
  • Animation – Use animation to make relevant bits of the display attract more attention and focus people’s attention on the most important messages. For instance, if you are promoting food/drink promotions, you could have the roundel on the outside of a message (e.g. “Upgrade to a large drink”) pulsing.
  • Synchronising content – If you have more than one screen in your location and a message of particular importance, or if you’re looking to create an “experience” within your store or venue, consider synchronising all the screens together. You can create content that uses all screens as a single “canvas”, taking them over for 10-15 seconds for this key piece of content, then switching back so that the screens become individual again. Because this is a little more complex, most businesses use a specialist agency for designing and scheduling this type of content.

Using the advice in this guide should give you a good idea of your options and best practice. However, the secret of making the most of your digital signage content, is to know exactly when to use which strategy and to have the right expertise to create it.

Get in touch with us to speak to our specialist content creation and management team to find out more about how we could help you create content that really enages your audience and gets your message across.

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