A Few Parallels Between Online and Out-of-Home Digital Design

A Few Parallels Between Online and Out-of-Home Digital Design

Digital design is unfortunately pigeonholed into the online, web-driven world. Newer mediums of digital distribution now help to further clutter and dilute the ad-driven landscape, making it more difficult to reach new niches. Chief among these emerging technologies is today’s ad-driven digital signage. Coined as digital out-of-home by the ad sector folks, this new form is competing for the very eyeballs web designers are working so hard to hold. The fray does not mean, cross-pollination of ideas can’t help to improve both online and out-of-home digital mediums. Let’s look at a few of the similarities between designing for digital signs and web graphics.

Design Drives Revenue

The term “content is king” can be counted as an overused phrase in any industry, but it does broadcast a very self-evident truth: poor content = poor return on investment. Regardless of whether you use your digital sign as a menu board in a restaurant or an information board in a corporate lobby, if the content does not engage the audience, it’s most likely not serving its intended purpose to increase sales or cause people to do a particular thing. The same holds true for any online medium as well. Good content is what brings in large swaths of online traffic. And as we all know, traffic drives revenue.

Surprise: Users are Attracted to Usability

digital menu

I can think of two separate examples of an interactive digital menu board installation we performed for a popular restaurant. Both owners wanted to engage customers with images of the food while they waited in the lobby, allowing users to scroll through various pictures, descriptions and prices of what the venue offered. One failed and the other succeeded. The difference was usability. In one instance, the owner demanded a less-expensive (and in this case less-than-ideal) touchscreen sign for his patrons. The other, while a bit more expensive, worked flawlessly. It felt and responded like a giant iPad.

The same holds true for graphics online. Making it usable is essential. Usability is not always cheap, but is always relevant.

Customer Conversions Require Testing

Customer Conversions Require Testing

In a former life, I consulted regularly with well-known software company whose sole sales method of their consumer-based software was online, direct to consumer. Their site converted very well, but was extremely web 1.0. In short, it was painful to look at. We came to the board with a few design changes in mind, in hopes the site would increase conversions. After designing what we thought was a killer design and after performing A/B tests prior to the full site rollout, we discovered conversions decreased—significantly.

We iterated again, thinking that if we could change some things and get it right that we could make the site into an even better money making machine. Again, we were proven wrong. In the end, what we thought was a drab version of our site ended up converting better than several different iterations. We came to the conclusion that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The same holds true for out-of-home customer experiences. Test the response rates of different content, especially before and after. You never know, you may be eating your own words when what you thought was ineffective actually proves itself in practice.

Know Your Target Audience

Know Your Target Audience

What’s good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander. In the previous example, we found that most of the software’s purchasers were stay-at-home mothers used to purchasing software from circa-1990s software websites. The new designs actually turned them off. The moral of the story: the audience matters.

In the digital signage world, you may install one sign on a rack in the women’s section at a Nordstrom’s downtown. The other may sit in a corporate office full of bankers and finance execs. The content will not only need to match the ambiance, but relate directly the potential audience. What works in one setting will not necessarily work in another. To prove the point, each new piece of content should be rigorously tested against the previous several pieces, in both settings. In this case, it’s like a Physician’s Hippocratic Oath of “do no harm.” Try to make things better, but be careful not to make things worse. Luckily you’re not working with human lives at stake. But saving a few dollars could mean the difference between profitability and embarrassment.

The parallels between online and out-of-home digital design are certainly broader than the small batch listed above. Their differences are sometimes subtle and all too often more negligible than initially meets the eye. In short, there is a great deal that web and sign designers can learn from one another. As they are able to effectively cross-pollinate ideas, I’m convinced both industries will find improvements.

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Nate Nead

Nate Nead

Nate Nead is the online marketing manager for Deploid, a digital signage software and hardware provider based in Seattle, WA. Follow Nate on his digital sign blog.
Nate Nead

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